'Radioactive Rick' Perry can't dance his way out of past misdeeds
© Greg Nash

“Radioactive Rick” Perry is going through the confirmation process Thursday that will determine whether he will become the next secretary of energy. Perry is a creature of the swamp that Trump pledged to drain.

We have known Perry since 1985, when he walked into the Texas Capitol as a state representative and later as the longest serving governor in Texas history.


Perry’s record in Texas was one of willful ignorance with respect to risks, cronyism and favors to corporations and donors. He’d be disastrous as our energy secretary. 

 If confirmed, Perry will have to make decisions on how changes in our energy policy could impact climate change and how to dispose of cancer-causing nuclear waste.

Based on his record in Texas, Perry’s decisions won’t be made based on science, but on what his donors want and what political benefits will accrue to him and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSecret Service members who helped organize Pence Arizona trip test positive for COVID-19: report Trump administration planning pandemic office at the State Department: report Iran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report MORE.

Perry’s lowlights during his time as governor of Texas include:

  • Issuing an executive order fast-tracking the permitting of 11 proposed new coal plants, without regard to climate or health risks. This was to benefit one of his donors, TXU Energy.
  • Suing to block 18 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air quality rules.
  • Appointing climate change deniers to boards and commissions and killing a climate emissions inventory at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) at the behest of the Texas Association of Business and the oil and gas industry.
  • Ignoring air and water quality impacts of fracking and the frack-quakes that can occur from disposal of fracking waste.  

Perhaps the biggest concern over Perry's nomination is that he may be rising from the swamp just in time to repay the family of his second-largest donor — Harold Simmons.

As energy secretary, Perry would oversee the nation’s high-level radioactive waste. Spent fuel rods are so radioactive that unshielded exposure is deadly. 

The Department of Energy (DOE) is charged with finding a permanent repository to isolate radioactive waste for tens of thousands of years into the future. The Yucca Mountain site in Nevada was found to be inadequate and so the search is on for a short-term place to store this waste.  

As governor, Perry approved a West Texas site for low-level radioactive waste owned by Simmons despite the unanimous recommendation of professional staff to deny the application due to water contamination risks to surrounding communities.

The site is perilously close to the nation’s largest aquifer, the Ogallala, that lies under eight states.

Now Simmons’ company, Waste Control Specialists (WCS), has applied to store 40,000 tons of the most dangerous nuclear waste from reactors around the country — for 40 years or more — in casks placed above ground on a parking lot-style pad.

That doesn’t seem like a safe way to isolate this waste.  

If this supposedly interim dump is green-lighted by the federal government, an estimated 10,000 railcars of deadly waste would be shipped through major cities throughout the country to West Texas over the course of 20 years.

What if this radioactive waste was targeted by terrorists? Each railcar load would contain as much plutonium as the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Terrorists would likely target a major city with millions of people.

It’s too risky to move this waste unnecessarily and it should be moved only once, to a scientifically viable, permanent repository site — once one is established. 

Texas regulators warned that once this waste goes to West Texas, it wouldn’t likely be moved again to an underground repository and an unsafe de facto disposal site could be created.

The federal government will assume liability once this waste is “stored,” but "out of sight, out of mind" doesn’t equal safe disposal. Don’t believe for a minute that Congress would appropriate the tens of billions needed to bury this waste safely. 

How do we know that Perry will ignore risks and favor political donors at our peril? History proves the point. Consider that Perry appointees ignored unanimous warnings by professional staff not to approve the WCS site.

Simmons gave Perry two donations totaling $1,120,000 just before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s decision to override staff and permit the site. Coincidence?

So Radioactive Rick may soon be setting our nation’s energy policy, not based on what’s good for the country, but what’s good for the creatures of the swamp. He may appear on Dancing With the Stars, but he can’t dance his way around his record.


Tom Smith is the director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a lobbying firm that "advocates for a healthier and more equitable world by making government work for the people."

Karen Hadden is the director of the Sustainable Energy & Economic Development Coalition


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