Donald Trump’s selection of Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy has prompted many Democrats to question Perry’s qualifications for the position. While he governed a state rich in fossil fuels and wind energy, Perry has far less experience than President Obama’s two energy secretaries, both physicists, in the department’s primary work, such as tending the nuclear-weapons stockpile, handling nuclear waste and carrying out advanced scientific research. That’s not to mention, of course, that Perry four years ago called for doing away with the entire department. However, there’s one realm in which Perry will have plenty of preparation: doling out taxpayer money in the form of government grants to the energy industry. What often gets lost in all the talk of the Texas job boom under Perry is how much economic development strategy was driven by direct subsidies to employers who promised to relocate to the state or create jobs there.
Each announcement by President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team about his picks for cabinet positions flares public interest. Whether it’s ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to lead the State Department or former Texas Governor Rick Perry as secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, the appointments provide insight into what the businessman’s presidency might mean for America and the rest of the world. Those appointments will have significant impacts here in New Mexico, which has 23 sovereign Native American tribes, millions of acres of federal lands and an abundance of natural resources like oil, gas, coal, copper and uranium. Not only that, but in the past five years, the state’s environmental regulations and agencies—which might have been able to hold the line against some of the incoming president’s policies—have been weakened during the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez. When it comes to issues like science and environmental regulations, high-level staff picks have long-term impacts on everything from pollution trends and energy policy to the rate at which the Earth’s atmosphere is warming.
New Mexico’s two U.S. Senators took aim at the latest cabinet level nominee announced by President-elect Donald Trump Tuesday. Sen. Martin Heinrich called former Texas Governor Rick Perry “utterly unqualified” to lead the Department of Energy, while Sen. Tom Udall said he was “disappointed” by the selection. Heinrich noted that those who work at the national labs in New Mexico are affected by the Department of Energy, and called the department “New Mexico’s economic lifeblood.”
Udall also mentioned that most of the DOE budget is earmarked for “its solemn and critical responsibilities regarding our nation’s nuclear security.”
Udall brought up Los Alamos National Lab and Sandia National Labs as the “crown jewels of our nuclear security complex,” as well as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeast New Mexico. “New Mexico is also home to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the nation’s only deep geologic facility that disposes of weapons-related nuclear waste, which is closed due to a radiological accident and still faces a difficult road to recovery,” Udall said. “To win the confidence of the American people and the Senate, Gov. Perry will need to demonstrate a strong understanding of these complex challenges and lay out a management vision to execute the difficult tasks before the department.”
Editor’s note: If you’d like an email notice whenever we publish Ross Ramsey’s column, click here. Sometimes, your only choices are “naive” and “cynical” — as when the question is whether to believe what political people say. Naive: Trust them! They’re telling you want you need to know to participate in the epic wonderland of civic life. Cynical: Don’t trust them!
The aftermath of a heinous crime that saw a career criminal kill a Rio Rancho police officer is sparking talk of tougher crime laws. Next week, state lawmakers in the interim Courts, Corrections & Justice Committee will hear testimony on a bill to add crimes to New Mexico’s existing “three strikes” law, which assigns mandatory life in prison sentences to convicts of three violent crimes. Yet the local legislative doubling down on “tough on crime” laws—two Republican state representatives are proposing changes that would tighten New Mexico’s three strikes law—comes at a time with strong national momentum in the opposite direction. And it’s Republicans with national ambitions that, in many cases, have been making headlines for this. “Former [Texas] Gov. Rick Perry is going around the country bragging that he closed three prisons,” said state Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, who supports criminal justice reform.
[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]ALEX CURTAS is the editor of NMPR’s “Community Voices” page. He studied political science at American University and received a B.A. and M.A. in Philosophy from the University of New Mexico. He is currently the Communications Director for ProgressNow NM. [/box]
While Democrats and Republicans in D.C. and New Mexico seem to be growing farther and farther apart on many issues, there is at least one economic proposal on the table in our state that may become a beacon of compromise. Closing funds are pools of discretionary public money that help provide incentives for new or existing businesses to re-locate to a state, make infrastructure investments, or expand operations.