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Rick Perry’s Likely Successor Wants to Rescue Coal Plants Too

Ari Natter

(Bloomberg) -- The man seen as most likely to replace Rick Perry as U.S. energy secretary is a backer of his boss’s efforts to help unprofitable coal and nuclear plants.

Perry told confidants in recent days that he plans to resign from the Trump administration by the end of the year, according to two people familiar with the matter.

That’s shifted a spotlight onto Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette, the agency’s No. 2 official.

Brouillette has recently has taken a higher profile role at the department, filling in for Perry in appearances abroad and on television interviews as well as cabinet meetings. That’s viewed by some as an effort by the secretary to prepare a successor. Brouillette, 57, has also taken a bigger role on some policy matters, such as natural gas exports and touting American energy to foreign allies.

The Energy Department declined to make Brouillette available for comment and denied Perry, 69, was on the cusp of departing.

“While the beltway media has breathlessly reported on rumors of Secretary Perry’s departure for months, he is still the Secretary of Energy and a proud member of President Trump’s Cabinet. One day the media will be right. Today is not that day,” said Shaylyn Hynes, an Energy Department spokeswoman.

Allies say Brouillette, a Louisiana native, would be a natural fit to take over from Perry, who since March 2017 led the agency he once vowed to eliminate.

“Everyone really likes him, he solicits views of others even those he doesn’t agree with,” said Joe McMonigle, who worked with Brouillette in the Department of Energy. “In terms of the Hill he was very well liked, even among Democrats. They find Dan to be an honest broker.”

Like Perry, Brouillette is a supporter of efforts -- unsuccessful thus far -- to subsidize coal and nuclear plants that have been unprofitable in the face of competition from cheaper natural gas and renewables, which has forced operators to close down.

“Fuel-secure units are retiring at an alarming rate. Left unchecked, this will threaten our ability to recover from attacks and natural disasters,” Brouillette said in a speech at a conference in Israel earlier this year. “That’s why one of DOE’s foremost priorities is stopping the loss of these critical resources.”

Other aspects of Perry’s agenda, which include selling more U.S. natural gas abroad and protecting the electric grid from cyber attack, aren’t expected to change if Brouillette were to get the top job.

Brouillette previously worked at the agency as an assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs under President George W. Bush and has had stints as staff director for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he played a role in crafting major energy legislation. He also was a senior executive in the policy office of Ford Motor Co. and financial services provider United Services Automobile Association.

The idea of a Bush-administration veteran running the department doesn’t jibe with those in the energy community hoping to see Trump put a change-agent atop the department.

“Dan’s an honest broker and a genuinely nice guy,” said Tom Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, a free-market advocacy group. “And while he will definitely keep the trains running on time, I don’t anticipate he will lead the badly needed overhaul of the DOE. I hope I’m proven wrong.”

--With assistance from Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Jennifer Jacobs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ari Natter in Washington at anatter5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net, Steve Geimann

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