Senate confirms Trump’s new energy secretary

By: - December 3, 2019 6:06 am

Dan Brouillette, right, and former Energy Secretary Rick Perry in 2017. (DOE photo)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has a new head of energy policy, no thanks to Nevada’s senators.

The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to confirm the nomination of Dan Brouillette as the new secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy. He succeeds former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who stepped down Sunday.

Both of Nevada’s senators — Democrats Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen — opposed Brouillette’s nomination, as did 13 other senators. Seventy voted for Brouillette, who has served as deputy secretary of the department since August 2017. Fifteen were absent.

In explaining their votes, Rosen and Cortez Masto pointed to the department’s record in the Silver State under the leadership of Perry and Brouillette.

“I voted against Mr. Brouillette to be Energy Secretary because of my many concerns with how the Department of Energy has violated Nevada’s trust,” Rosen said in a statement Monday.

Under Perry and Brouillette’s leadership, the department shipped plutonium to Nevada without consent, and continues to pursue a plan to dump radioactive waste from nuclear power plants at the Yucca Mountain site north of Las Vegas, she said.

A department spokesperson declined to directly respond to the senator’s comments.

Cortez Masto — a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee — opposed the nomination for similar reasons. 

“My concern is how we as the state of Nevada trust the Department of Energy moving forward,” she said during a committee hearing on Brouillette’s nomination last month. “They have tarnished and broken … our commitment to us.”

Cortez Masto opposed Brouillette’s 2017 nomination to be deputy secretary of the department over concerns about his views on nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain — an issue she pressed during the November confirmation hearing. 

Brouillette responded by shifting responsibility for the decision to the legislative branch.  

“As you well know, I’m obligated to follow the law of the land,” he said — but he also noted he could not fund the plan without congressional approval.

Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1982, which designated Yucca Mountain as the sole repository for disposal of spent nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive waste.

Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and President Barack Obama stalled the plan in 2010, but the Trump administration wants to revive it.

Democratic Rep. Dina Titus — who has led a fight in the U.S. House to block funding for the plan — also assailed Brouillette, calling his nomination “an attack on the state of Nevada and another attempt by the Trump Administration to make our state the dumping ground for the nation’s nuclear waste.”

Titus and other Nevada Democrats successfully urged House appropriators to exclude funding for the Yucca Mountain plan in fiscal year 2020 — which she said was no small feat. “This fight is far from over,” Titus added, “but I’m encouraged by the support on our side.”

Senate appropriations bills for fiscal year 2020 don’t include funding for Yucca Mountain either, Titus spokesman Kevin Gerson said, but those bills have yet to pass the Senate.

Brouillette also assured Cortez Masto during the hearing that he would uphold an agreement Perry made to begin to remove the plutonium shipment from the state in 2021.

Before becoming deputy secretary at the Department of Energy, Brouillette worked in policy at a financial services organization and at Ford Motor Company. A U.S. Army veteran, he was also chief of staff at the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and worked in other government positions — including an earlier stint at the Department of Energy. Brouillette is a graduate of the University of Maryland; he and his wife have nine children

Perry, who promoted “freedom gas” and other fossil fuels during his tenure, announced he was stepping down in October. The news came amidst his refusal to comply with a House subpoena to answer questions about his involvement in decisions to withhold foreign aid to Ukraine, the subject of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. 

Perry — one of the so-called “three amigos” reportedly responsible for the administration’s Ukraine policy — has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

But Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, took to the floor Monday to chastise him — and Brouillette — for their silence on the matter. 

“This is the head of the Energy Department, and it looks like he was right in the center of the Trump corruption scheme in Ukraine,” Wyden said before the vote. Brouillette, he added, wasn’t willing to say anything “substantive” about Perry’s activities in Ukraine during the confirmation process. I don’t think Perry acted “all by his lonesome,” Wyden said.

Correction: This story has been updated to include the correct spelling of the name of Rep. Dina Titus’ spokesman, Kevin Gerson.

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Allison Stevens
Allison Stevens

Allison Stevens is a Washington D.C. reporter for States Newsroom, a network of state-based nonprofit news outlets that includes Nevada Current.