Will Rick Perry comply with Congress? That’s the question hanging over the energy secretary now that he has been served a subpoena in the House impeachment inquiry.
Three top House Democrats on Thursday officially requested Perry to turn over a trove of documents related to the Trump administration’s interactions with Ukraine.
Now Perry, who has built a reputation in Washington as one of the rare Trump Cabinet officials with whom congressional Democrats can amicably work, will have to decide whether to listen to Congress at perhaps the most trying juncture of Trump’s presidency.
Perry's decision will be an early test of how tightly President Trump is able to control his deputies from becoming witnesses in Congress's impeachment inquiry as the White House more broadly seeks to limit the information lawmakers have in their investigation.
Earlier this month, Perry suggested he would go along with orders from Congress. “We're going to work with Congress and answer all their questions,” Perry told reporters in Chicago on Oct. 2. An Energy Department spokesperson did not reply to requests for comment on Friday or over the weekend.
But that was before Perry was directly subpoenaed, rather than just being mentioned in subpoenas issued to the White House and to Trump's personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani.
And it was before the White House issued a scorched-earth letter declaring it would refuse to cooperate with the impeachment investigation.
Perry, though accused of no wrongdoing, finds himself closer to the center of a Trump scandal than ever.
During a July 25 phone call, Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open an investigation into one of his political rivals, former vice president Joe Biden. Trump later said Perry asked him to make that call, but Perry told reporters last week he did it so that the two could talk about energy issues.
The four-page subpoena directs Perry to hand over documents related to his involvement in the July call as well as to a Ukrainian state-owned natural gas company. The House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees have set a deadline of Oct. 18 for Perry to comply.
There is precedent for Perry to follow if he wants follow the subpoena. The White House hasn’t been able to stop some administration officials from succumbing to the pressure of legal orders from Congress.
Despite a directive not to participate, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch went to Capitol Hill under subpoena on Friday. And Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, plans to testify this week under subpoena despite the State Department blocking him from previously appearing at a voluntary deposition.
By testifying or providing documents, administration officials risk having Trump fire them. But as The Post's Matt Zapotosky explains, the consequences of defying a congressional subpoena — which include fines or prison — could be seen as worse.
The Energy Department, which runs national laboratories and maintains the nation’s nuclear stockpile, has kept a relatively low profile during the Trump administration.
Perry has been on the receiving end of a lot less criticism from Democrats compared to other Trump officials working on energy and environmental issues, such as former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt and ex-Interior Department secretary Ryan Zinke.
That’s not just because he's managed to avoid major ethics controversies in office. It's in part because the Energy Department has relatively fewer regulations to potentially roll back. (Though last week, a group of Senate Democrats wrote to the energy secretary urging the administration's reversal of energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs.) And it's partly because of the congeniality Perry brings to his interactions with Congress.
Often Perry has assuaged fears from congressional Democrats worried about funding cut requests to the Energy Department coming from budgetary ax officials in the White House, such as current acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
During a hearing last year, for example, Perry heaped praise onto an energy technology incubator, popular on both sides of the aisle, for “having such a profound impact on American lives” — despite the White House officially requesting to slash its budget to zero.
Perry has had an easy rapport with congressional Democrats privately — sometimes bringing them in on conference calls — as well as on the dais.
When former senator and Saturday Night Live comedian Al Franken asked Perry during his confirmation hearing whether he enjoyed meeting him in his office, Perry quipped: “I hope you are as much fun on that dais as you were on your couch.”
— Backlash to the blackouts: Things went wrong soon after Pacific Gas & Electric announced it would proactively shut off power to curb wildfire risk. Overall, after the rolling outages began Wednesday, there were more than 700,000 customers in the dark. And there were missteps along the way.
- Among the problems: “PG&E’s communications and computer systems faltered, and its website went down as customers tried to find out whether they would be cut off or spared,” the New York Times reports. “As the company struggled to tell people what areas would be affected and when, chaos and confusion unspooled outside. Roads and businesses went dark without warning, nursing homes and other critical services scrambled to find backup power and even government agencies calling the company were put on hold for hours … Residents were left asking why so many people had to lose power and whether rolling blackouts would become routine as climate change makes wildfires more frequent and intense.”
- The outages could be a problem for Newsom: During a news conference last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) called the outages “unacceptable. We’re seeing the scale and scope of something no state in the 21st century should experience.” But some political observers are warning that a future of these shutoffs could harm the governor’s political fate, Politico reports.
Meanwhile in California-related news: A group of 593 former EPA officials signed a letter sent to the House Oversight and Government Reform and Energy and Commerce committees calling for an investigation into whether the Trump administration’s threats against California — which including two letters threatening to withhold grant funds — are political retaliation against a state that does not support Trump’s agenda, the Los Angeles Times reports. California's two senators, Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, have also called on the EPA’s inspector general to investigate "whether the White House pressured the agency to abuse its law enforcement authority to single out California and the city of San Francisco."
— Amazon responds to climate critics: The e-commerce giant posted an almost 1,300-word document responding to questions about the company's stance on tackling climate change and its environmental impact, among numerous other topics such as the minimum wage and regulating facial-recognition technology.
- What Amazon is responding to: “Amazon recently came under fire by its own employees for its climate policies and practices. The group, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, called on the company to, among other things, end contracts with its cloud-computing business that help energy companies accelerate oil and gas extraction. The new position statement says Amazon won’t do that,” The Post’s Jay Greene reports.
- Angry employees say that's not enough: “The employee group shot back, citing marketing materials from Amazon Web Services that note its technology is helping fossil fuel companies find new oil reserves much more quickly. Amazon is pushing a false narrative that aiding oil and gas companies means transitioning to clean energy, the group said.” (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
— The need for a “quantum leap” carbon tax: The International Monetary Fund says a massive global carbon tax needs to be implemented in the next decade to curb climate change. They suggest a $75 per-ton tax by the year 2030 would limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, The Post’s Chris Mooney and Andrew Freedman report.
- What such a tax would do: “In the United States, a $75 tax would cut emissions by nearly 30 percent but would cause on average a 53 percent increase in electricity costs and a 20 percent rise for gasoline at projected 2030 prices, the analysis in the IMF’s Fiscal Monitor found,” they write. “But it would also generate revenue equivalent to 1 percent of gross domestic product, an enormous amount of money that could be redistributed and, if spread equally, would end up being a fiscally progressive policy, rather than one disproportionately targeting the poor.”
— “It’ll be called ‘Fire Drill Friday’ ”: Actress Jane Fonda has temporarily moved to Washington and is on a climate crusade, one inspired by the activism of 16-year-old Greta Thunberg. She was arrested while demonstrating outside the Capitol building on Friday and plans to repeat the effort for 14 Fridays in a row to sound the alarm about the climate crisis. “[S]he will go to the steps of the Capitol building holding a placard and will refuse to obey three requests by the Capitol Police to cease and desist. She’s not expecting a mass rally, more like a handful of people,” The Post’s Steven Mufson reports. “Greta said we have to behave like it’s a crisis,” Fonda said. “We have to behave like our houses are on fire.”
— Low-lying islands declare a climate crisis: The Marshall Islands declared a national climate crisis because of risks associated with rising sea levels. “The low-lying coral atoll nations — the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu in the Pacific and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, which all average just a few feet above sea level — are particularly vulnerable to rising oceans,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “ There have already been episodes of ‘king tide’ flooding in the Marshall Islands, which consists of 29 coral atolls about 5,000 miles from Los Angeles and 2,000 from Hawaii.”
— Some plastics may not be forever: A new paper suggests that sunlight can degrade polystyrene, a pervasive plastic, over decades or centuries, which is faster than previous research suggested. ‘It’s common knowledge that sunlight can cause plastics to weather,” the New York Times reports. “ … The new study demonstrated that sunlight does even more, breaking down polystyrene into basic chemical units of organic carbon, which dissolves in seawater, and trace amounts of carbon dioxide, at levels far too low to play a role in climate change. By the end of this process the plastic has effectively disappeared from the environment.”
— Coal lobbying group arranged letters from state energy regulators: Utility commissioners in half a dozen states wrote letters urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to look into whether coal plant retirements harm the electric grid, a push that was arranged by a coal lobbying group, Bloomberg News reports. The letters were sent at the request of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity and Jon McKinney, a consultant for the coal group working on the push. Those letters also sometimes resembled language in samples provided by the trade group, per the report. “State regulators are not there to do the bidding of a coal association,” said Tyson Slocum, director of watchdog group Public Citizen’s energy program.
- The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight holds a hearing on addressing the lead crisis through innovation and technology on Tuesday.
- The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis holds a hearing on cleaner, stronger buildings on Thursday.
- The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management holds a hearing on federal recovery efforts after recent disasters on Oct. 22.
- The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment holds a hearing on the Pebble Mine Project on Oct. 23.
— After a strange summer, wonderful fall colors have emerged over Alaska's tundra, writes Emily Niebuhr fo The Post.