Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) praised the US Department of Energy’s research programs, said he would try to protect their funding, and repudiated his call as a 2012 presidential candidate for DOE’s elimination during the US Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee’s hearing on his nomination to be US Energy Secretary.
“My past statements made over 5 years ago about abolishing [DOE] do not reflect my current thinking. In fact, after being briefed on so many of its vital functions, I regret recommending its elimination,” he said at the Jan. 19 hearing.
“If confirmed, I will enter this role excited and passionate about advancing the core missions of DOE, and drawing greater attention to the vital role played by the agency and the hard working men and women who dedicate themselves in pursuit of these missions,” Perry stated.
Committee Democrats pressed the nominee on preserving key DOE functions following a report in The Hill that the incoming administration was thinking of cutting funding for nuclear physics and advanced scientific research to 2008 levels, eliminating the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office, and closing the Fossil Energy Office.
“The choice before us, in my opinion, Gov. Perry, is pretty clear: The Trump administration can either cling to the fossil fuel industry of the past, or continue to lead on the innovations that are going to be leading technologies in the world and put the US in a clear leadership position,” said Ranking Minority Member Maria E. Cantwell (D-Wash.).
Cantwell noted that the presidential transition team sent a questionnaire to DOE asking for information about employees who had worked on climate research. “As you look at this agency, what is the level of scientific commitment necessary to make this transition to alternative and renewable fuels? Are you willing to protect individuals who are doing research there?” she asked Perry.
‘Protect all the science’
“The questionnaire went out before I was selected to be this department’s nominee. I do not support or endorse it,” Perry replied. “My commitment is to support the extraordinary people working at DOE working in many important research areas. I’m going to protect all the science, not only about the climate but also cybersecurity. If I’m confirmed, DOE will go to a new level of engagement to find anyone, whether they are private citizens or foreign governments, who are trying to penetrate US security.”
Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.) said, “I hope that if you are confirmed, Gov. Perry, you will take a broad view of the importance of basic scientific research, and continue to pursue the significant benefits that result from it.”
Responding to a question by committee member John Hoeven (R-ND), the nominee said it will be vital to continue funding DOE’s basic research because it can lead to technology that improves people’s lives. “I hope that someday, we can stand up and sell technology that began at DOE to the Chinese to help them clean up pollution there,” Perry said. “Your state and mine both benefited from hydraulic fracturing technology that began decades ago in DOE’s research labs.”
To Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) question of whether he would abandon research that potentially could help the coal and nuclear power industries, Perry responded: “Don’t get me confused with the previous administration. From the standpoint of being an individual who promotes energy sources that also can drive the economy, I have an established record.” That includes wind power, which has grown significantly in his home state, he added.
Like two other Trump administration nominees—Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) to be Secretary of the Interior and Oklahoma Atty. Gen. Ryan Pruitt (R) to be Environmental Protection Agency Administrator—Perry acknowledged that global climate change is taking place, that human activity is at least partially responsible, and that the next step is to determine the most effective and economic ways to address the problem.
“DOE’s role, going forward, is to find the next technology advancements in all energy research programs,” Perry said. “I am a fiscal conservative, and wear this as a badge of honor. But I believe that it’s important for government to put forward technologies that improve our lives. You can’t change the stripes on this eagle.”
Contact Nick Snow at firstname.lastname@example.org.