Dear Mr. Rick Perry, Energy Secretary nominee:
Congratulations — you survived the grilling by members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and are on the path to becoming the nation’s next energy secretary. Your confirmation appears imminent.
We noticed you said all the right things during your meeting with Senate committee members, including that you would visit the Hanford nuclear reservation if you are confirmed.
Well, Mr. Perry, we would like to hold you to that. And we think the sooner you visit the better.
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It is no secret you are on an incredibly steep learning curve. In fact, some would say it’s not so much a curve as a climb up the face of a mountain.
When running for the presidency in 2012, you said the Department of Energy should be dismantled — although you couldn’t remember its name at the time. Now you want to lead it.
We also heard that, initially, you thought DOE was all about the oil and gas industries.
It wasn’t until later you realized DOE manages the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal, as well as the cleanup of toxic waste at old nuclear production sites like Hanford.
In reality, DOE has little to do with actual energy production. Its focus is on science, much of it done at the national laboratories, which are the stars of government research.
The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland is a source of pride in our community. When you visit Hanford, we would encourage you to also spend a considerable amount of time at PNNL, walking its halls and talking with scientists there. You will be amazed.
The recent energy secretaries before you were known as great scientists: Ernest Moniz, a highly respected nuclear physicist, and Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize winner for physics.
You were the governor of Texas from 2000-15, and have a reputation for being a political champion of oil and fossil fuels.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, voted against your recommendation, in part, because she doubted you would favor scientific expertise over political strategy on certain issues, such as climate change.
But by sheer determination and a willingness to listen, you could become a champion for DOE programs even without a strong scientific background.
When it comes to Hanford, we are hopeful you will come to understand the technical complexities and challenges that are involved in cleaning up toxic waste left over from plutonium production during World War II.
And don’t let anyone convince you “nothing has been done” at Hanford — a phrase we hear often by those outside our community.
Progress has been made. Washington Closure Hanford completed its mission of cleaning up most of the radioactive waste from the Columbia River corridor just last year, for example.
But there is still much cleanup work to do at the nuclear site, and it will come with a multibillion price tag. We need an energy secretary who will fight to see that Hanford cleanup gets the funding it needs.
The best way for you to learn about Hanford is to see it with your own eyes and talk to the people who work there. There are safety concerns and technological challenges you need to understand.
Once you have visited, you will have a better grasp of the work being done at Hanford and PNNL, and you can better support both.
You have doubters who are skeptical you will embrace the scientific foundation at DOE. Prove them wrong.