Former Texas governor Rick Perry faced questions today from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. His path to being confirmed as the next Secretary of Energy appears to be clear, despite Democrats who asked whether he will foster the bureaucracy that he once said he would eliminate. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) was the first Democrat to take a shot at Perry, saying, “In case you may have forgotten, you once called for the abolishment of the agency.” She added, “I expect now, having had the chance to learn about the department, you have a very different opinion.”
Perry responded, "My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking." He added, "In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination."
The DOE oversees not only energy policy, but also ensures the safety of power plants, the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and conducts research. “I am committed to modernizing our nuclear stockpile, promoting and developing American energy in all forms, advancing the department’s critical science and technology mission and carefully disposing of nuclear waste,” he said.
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) said, “I want to say on behold of the nearly 25,000 New Mexicans who work at Sandia, Los Alamos, who work at WIPP, at NNSA and DOE, I want to thank you for your statement of regret…” WIPP and NNSA are acronyms for DOE installations in New Mexico.
Taking a different tack on global climate change than President-elect Donald Trump, who called the concept a “hoax” destined to help China, Perry said, “I believe the climate is changing.” He said, “I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by manmade activity. The question is how do we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth, the affordability of energy, or American jobs.”
A similar answer on climate change has been heard from several of Trump’s nominees. They include Trump’s EPA pick Scott Pruitt, who said yesterday that he does not believe climate change is a hoax. “Science tells us that the climate is changing, and that human activity, in some manner, impacts that change,” Pruitt said on his hearing. On January 17, the nominee for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke also said climate change is not a hoax: “I think where there’s debate is what that influence is, what we can do about it.”
Also, Democrats on the committee appeared concerned about reported budget cuts for DOE. Citing a report by The Hill that has been widely circulated about cuts amount to more than $1 trillion in ten years. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) said they have concerns, as did Sen. Angus King (I-ME).
Striking a bipartisan note, however, was Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who gave a warm introduction to Perry.