The Senate confirmed Dan Brouillette as the nation’s 16th secretary of energy Monday, replacing Rick Perry with the eighth former lobbyist to serve in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.
The 70-to-15 vote put Brouillette, 57, in charge of the agency that oversees the nation’s nuclear arsenal and funds vital research into technologies to cut planet-heating emissions.
Brouillette, the former deputy energy secretary, is expected to be a steady hand at an agency that has largely evaded the political scandals that plagued other federal departments even as he pushes the administration’s unabashedly pro-fossil fuel agenda.
His ascent from deputy energy secretary to the agency’s helm follows a pattern for a president who won in part on a promise to “drain the swamp” of profiteering influence peddlers.
Former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler is now the Environmental Protection Agency administrator. David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, now leads the Interior Department. Defense Secretary Mark Esper previously represented military contracting giant Raytheon.
In each case, the White House promoted a deputy with past experience lobbying for industries that fall under the agency’s purview to replace politicians with made-for-TV flares.
Wheeler took over for Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who rose to national prominence suing the Obama-era EPA. Bernhardt succeeded Ryan Zinke, a former Montana congressman who rode a horse through Washington on his first day at the Interior Department. Esper replaced Jim Mattis, the retired Marine Corps general whose troops nicknamed him “Mad Dog.”
While Brouillette follows a former Texas governor and onetime contestant on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” his résumé as a lobbyist overlaps less directly with the agency he now leads.
Brouillette started his career in public service, first enlisting in the Army, then as an aide to Rep. Billy Tauzin, a former Louisiana Democrat turned Republican. From 2001 to 2003, Brouillette worked at the Department of Energy as the assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs under President George W. Bush. For a year afterward, he served as chief of staff on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce when Tauzin was chairman.
Brouillette then entered the corporate sector, working for two years as Ford Motor Co.’s vice president in charge of domestic policy teams before taking a job as the head of public policy at the United Services Automobile Association, a financial services company.
He returned to the public sector in 2013 as a member of the Louisiana State Mineral and Energy Board. In August 2017, the Senate voted, 79-17, to confirm him as Perry’s No. 2.
Brouillette is “not ideological at all” and is “going to be less eager to do some of the political interfacing that Perry likes to do,” a former Trump administration official who worked with Brouillette at the Energy Department told The Washington Examiner.
“I didn’t have a political bone in my body,” Brouillette said during a May 2018 appearance on the Columbia Energy Exchange podcast. “I really didn’t understand politics at all.”
Yet Brouillette played a key role in the Trump administration’s failed proposal to provide a financial lifeline to distressed coal and nuclear power plants, which are shutting down in the face of competition from natural gas made cheap by the United States’ fracking boom.
The administration, despite railing against federal intervention in energy markets, has long argued that coal and nuclear energy are necessary to meet the minimum amount of electricity required to avoid blackouts, particularly during a natural disaster. That assessment is disputed. But the Energy Department’s bid to grant financial support, dubbed a federal “bailout” by some, was widely seen as a ploy to prop up the coal industry, which plays a central role in Trump’s political mythology.
In a June 24 speech in Tel Aviv, Brouillette called “stopping the loss of” so-called fuel-secure plants ― a stand-in for coal and nuclear ― a “foremost priority” for the Energy Department.
“Fuel-secure units are retiring at an alarming rate,” he said in the speech. “Left unchecked, this will threaten our ability to recover from attacks and natural disasters.”
Brouillette’s position on the climate crisis is less clear.
During his confirmation hearing in 2017, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) asked Brouillette if human-caused greenhouse gas emissions were causing global warming. Brouillette sidestepped the question, making the sort of deliberately vague statement that’s become a refrain for Republicans who no longer deny the reality that the planet is warming.
“Quite simply, senator, the climate is changing and we’re all living here, so we must have some impact,” he said.