Perry Vows to Defend Energy Department Research, Loan Programs

  • Nominee says he regrets calling for Energy agency’s closure
  • Former Texas Governor Rick Perry is pick for Energy secretary

Perry: Regret Calling for Elimination of Energy Dept.

Donald Trump’s pick for Energy secretary vowed to defend that department’s research into efficiency and carbon capture technology, while also apologizing for his previous call to shutter the entire agency.

Rick Perry, Trump’s choice to lead the Energy Department, said he supported the department’s broad research programs and its controversial loan guarantees for innovative technologies. He also disavowed a questionnaire sent by Trump’s team demanding a list of staff members working on climate change programs.

"I’m a big believer that we have a role to play, both in basic research, obviously, but also in that applied research -- to bring new technologies, new commercialization, new economic development opportunities to this country," Perry told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "I will be an advocate," he said, noting he has a background of "defending budgets."

In his confirmation hearing Thursday, Perry became the fourth potential energy cabinet member to back off from pledges from Trump or his advisers to radically revamp the government’s role in the sector. Members of the transition team have called for selling off federal lands to energy developers, ditching the legal basis for regulating carbon dioxide and axing government loans for advanced energy projects.

In succession this week those positions changed. Ryan Zinke, the Interior secretary pick, said public lands should remain that way. Scott Pruitt, tapped to head the Environmental Protection Agency, said the agency’s so-called endangerment finding should stay in place. And now Perry said government research and loan guarantee programs are needed. During the campaign, Trump had pledged to scrap the Paris climate accord, but Secretary of State pick Rex Tillerson said he supported the deal.

Renewables Research?

Perry, 66, said he had no information about a report in The Hill newspaper, which said the Trump transition team was considering axing multiple Department of Energy research agencies devoted to renewables, energy efficiency and the capture of emissions from coal. Those cuts are part of a larger budget plan to cut federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years, it reported.

"You are really going to have to do some hard pushing back on this," Senator Angus King, a Maine independent, said, characterizing the cuts as "nuts."

Perry also disavowed a controversial questionnaire on climate and other issues sent by Trump’s transition team last month that sought the names of agency employees who attended United Nation’s climate meetings and those who helped the Obama administration develop metrics used to estimate and justify the climate benefits of new rules.

Controversial Questionnaire

“I don’t want that information. I didn’t approve it. I don’t approve of it," Perry said, during a hearing that was marked by many lighthearted moments even as Democrats pressed him on various positions either he or Trump’s other advisers have taken.

Perry, the former governor of Texas, said that it’s no longer his "current thinking" that the Energy Department should be eliminated. He famously advocated that during his 2011 failed presidential bid, but then couldn’t recall which department he wanted to ax during a debate.

"After being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination," Perry said.

Wind Supporter

Perry says he will advocate and promote American energy in all forms, including renewable energy. While he was governor, Texas took the national lead in wind development, and now has more than 18,000 megawatts of wind capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association. That’s up from 210 megawatts when he took office in 2000.

AWEA sent a letter to senators in support of his nomination.

Some Democrats say Perry’s muddled idea to shutter the department responsible for guaranteeing the security of the U.S. nuclear portfolio raise questions about his fitness for the job.

"In case you may have forgotten, you once called for the abolishment of this agency. I suspect that now having had a chance to learn about the importance of this department, you have a very different opinion," Maria Cantwell, the panel’s top Democrat, said in her opening remarks. Cantwell said she was also concerned about Perry’s comments doubting the science of climate change.

But today, Perry vowed to support sound science, and long-term scientific research. That includes into climate change, he said.

“I believe the climate is changing," he said. "I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is caused by man-made activity. The question is how do we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth, effect affordability of energy, or American jobs.”

Climate ‘Hysteria’

Perry, in a 2010 book, accused scientists of manipulating climate change data and called global warming "hysteria." "The idea that we would put Americans’ economy in jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet is nonsense," he said in debate remarks while running for president in 2011.

"When it comes to climate change, I am committed to making decisions based on sound science and that also take into account the economic impact," Perry said Thursday.

If confirmed, Perry will oversee a disparate agency with an annual budget of around $30 billion. It’s work ranges from nuclear weapons safeguarding to maintaining the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

— With assistance by Jennifer A Dlouhy

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