WASHINGTON — Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced Thursday that he will leave his job by the end of the year, saying that under President Donald Trump the nation is nearing energy independence.
Perry's long-rumored departure comes as he is under scrutiny over the role he played in the president's dealings with Ukraine, the focus of an ongoing impeachment inquiry.
In a letter to Trump, Perry made no mention of Ukraine and exalted in policy successes that have led to increased production and exports of oil and natural gas.
"The U.S. private sector is leading the world in energy production, exploration and exports," Perry said. "Today, when the world looks for energy, they can now think of America first."
Trump said Perry "has done a fantastic job" at Energy, "but it was time" for him to leave.
Perry, 69, a former Texas governor, has been energy secretary since March 2017, making him one of the longest-serving members of Trump's Cabinet, which has seen huge turnover.
He was traveling with Trump to Texas when he notified the president of his decision aboard Air Force One.
Trump told reporters he "knew six months ago" that Perry wanted to leave by the end of the year. "He's got some ideas for doing something else. He's a terrific guy," Trump said.
Trump said he already knows who will succeed Perry, but declined to identify the person.
Trump denied reports that Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy or Texas Gov. Greg Abbott could replace Perry, but said, “They would both be very good.”
Asked whether Dunleavy has any interest in becoming energy secretary, deputy communications director Jeff Turner said by email, “The rumors are just that. Rumors.” When asked for clarification, he said they are “untrue rumors.”
House Democrats have subpoenaed Perry for documents related to a Ukrainian state-owned energy company as well as his involvement in a July call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The lawmakers set a Friday deadline.
Trump has said Perry teed up the July 25 call, in which Trump pressed Ukraine to investigate his Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son, who was employed by a Ukrainian gas company.
A spokeswoman for Perry has said he wanted Trump to speak with the Ukrainian leader on energy matters related to U.S. efforts to boost Western energy ties to Eastern Europe. It is part of a long-term effort to lessen the political control Russia wields through its dominance of the fuel supply.
The Associated Press reported this month that a circle of businessmen and Republican donors touted their connections to Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as they sought to install new management at the top of Ukraine's state-owned gas company last spring.
The plan hit a snag after Zelinskiy's election, but Perry took up the effort to install a friendlier management team at the company, Naftogaz. Perry attended Zelinskiy's May 2019 inauguration as the administration's senior representative and met privately with Zelinskiy. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Perry had disputed published reports that he was planning to leave the administration. He told a news conference in Lithuania earlier this month: “One of these days they will probably get it right. But it’s not today, it’s not tomorrow, not next month. Keep saying it and one day you’ll be right.”
Perry, who twice ran for president before taking the job at Energy, has kept a relatively low-profile in his 2 ½-year tenure. He has supported Trump's call for "energy dominance" around the world and pushed to bolster struggling coal-fired and nuclear power plants. He said last year that a rash of coal and nuclear retirements was "alarming" and posed a looming crisis for the nation's power grid.
"If unchecked, (the plant closures) will threaten our ability to recover from intentional attacks and natural disasters," Perry said at a speech in Texas.
Trump, who has frequently promised to bring back coal jobs, directed Perry in June 2018 to take "immediate steps" to bolster struggling coal-fired and nuclear power plants to keep them open, calling it a matter of national and economic security.
No definitive action has been taken since then. A regional transmission organization that oversees the power grid in 13 Eastern and Midwestern states said there's no immediate threat to system reliability.
Perry has won plaudits from lawmakers for an easygoing style that reflects a life in politics, and he has frequently distanced himself from severe budget cuts to energy programs sought by the White House. He has toured Energy Department sites around the country, represented the Trump administration at meetings overseas and begun a years-long process to revive a shuttered nuclear waste dump at Nevada's Yucca Mountain.
Before taking the Energy job, Perry had been subjected to widespread ridicule after forgetting the name of an agency he pledged to eliminate as president. That agency was the Energy Department. Despite that, Perry has emerged as a strong defender of the department's work, especially the 17 national labs that conduct cutting-edge research on everything from national security to renewable energy.
"I'm telling you officially the coolest job I've ever had is being secretary of Energy ... and it's because of these labs," Perry told employees at the Idaho National Laboratory in 2017.
Colvin reported from Fort Worth, Texas. Associated Press writer Kevin Freking in Washington and Anchorage Daily News reporter James Brooks in Juneau contributed to this report.