Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) joked during his confirmation hearing to become energy secretary that he hoped the Trump transition team would forget that they are reportedly planning massive cuts to the Department of Energy.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) referred to a report from The Hill that claimed Trump’s transition team favored a budget blueprint from the Heritage Foundation that called for the drastic cuts. She told Perry that Trump’s team supported eliminating the Department of Energy’s Office Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Office of Electricity, Office of Fossil Energy among “other massive cuts,” and then asked if he supported the move.
Perry evaded the question with a joke: “Maybe they’ll have the same experience I had and forget they said that.”
Watch live, via NBC:
Update at 12:50 p.m. Franken asked Perry if he would be open to “altering the pace and scope” of the massive nuclear modernization plan set in motion by the Obama administration, which he said “very distinguished national security experts believe” would hamper the nation’s ability to “conventional and unconventional threats.”
Perry responded tangentially, by saying “I understand my role of secretary of energy as being the manager of that agency.”
“From my perspective the issues that you bring forward, which are legitimate issues for us to talk about as a country, but those rely in your purview, and the Congress making the decisions,” he said.
Later, in response to a question about his support of the nuclear deal with Iran, Perry deflected again, noting that he hadn’t yet been briefed on the issue.
“If D.O.E. has a role, and there may be a role we have to play,” he said, “I think all of us can say we want them to live up to the deal, so message delivered.”
Update at 12:45 p.m. In response to repeated questioning from Cortez Masto on the issue, Perry refused to rule out storing waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
“If there are legitimate alternatives that keep the people of Nevada happy, that’s even better,” he said. “But I will not sit here in front of you in a committee hearing and tell you, absolutely, no way is Nevada going to be the recipient of any high-level waste.”
Update at 12:20 p.m. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) pressed Perry on his belief that man-made climate change is a threat to the planet. He urged Perry should he be confirmed as energy secretary to address the issue as “a global crisis. It’s not a question of the balance of this and the balance of that.”
Perry said the “academic discussion” of climate change was an “interesting exercise.”
“But do I have a record of affecting the climate in the world and in this country? The answer is yes, when you lower carbon emissions by 17 percent and sulfur dioxide by 66 percent,” he said, before trailing off.
Update at 12:07 p.m. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) challenged Perry to support the same programs he supported as governor of Texas to develop renewable energy sources like wind power on a federal level as energy secretary.
“I think you know my record, I’m a fiscal conservative and I don’t back away from that,” Perry responded, before hedging that he was committed to working with the private sector and universities on renewable and efficient energy solutions.
Update at 11:40 a.m. Franken confronted Perry about his comment earlier in the hearing that “some” climate change was man-made, asking him “how much climate change do you think the science shows is due to human activity?” before running out of time for Perry to respond. “I don’t want this idea that the economy and addressing climate change are at odds at all,” Franken said.
Update at 10:39 a.m. At the beginning of his questions to Perry, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) said “Thank you so much for coming into my office. Did you enjoy meeting me?
“I hope you are as much fun on that dais as you were on your couch,”Perry responded, before catching himself. “May I rephrase that, sir?”
“Please, please. Oh my lord,” Franken responded, laughing. “I think we’ve found our Saturday Night Live sound bite,” Perry told the senator, who used to be a cast member on the show.
Update at 11:33 a.m. Manchin lamented to Perry that some in the federal government complain about coal and natural gas but refuse, he said, to invest in research to make those energies cleaner. “Nobody likes it, but they sure as heck use it,” he said, urging Perry to “work with us” to make the sources cleaner.
“Don’t get me confused with the previous administration,” Perry responded. “From the standpoint of being an individual who has promoted those sources of energy that can drive an economy and at the same time help our environment — I have a record of doing that.”
Update at 11:06 a.m. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) challenged Perry on the Trump transition team’s reported reliance on budget proposals from the Heritage Foundation, which she said included rolling back “advance scientific computing research to 2008 levels.”
She may have been referring to a report out Thursday morning from The Hill, which found that the Trump team had used as a basis for potential cuts a blueprint from the Heritage Foundation, which called to “roll back funding for nuclear physics and advanced scientific computing research to 2008 levels, eliminate the Office of Electricity, eliminate the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and scrap the Office of Fossil Energy, which focuses on technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.”
“Just because it’s on the internet, it’s not true,” Perry responded. “I have no questions at all about whether or not the Trump administration is going to be very supportive of keeping America strong and free. And the technologies that come out of D.O.E. in many cases are going to play a very important role.”
Update at 10:52 a.m. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) asked Perry whether Nevadans should have final say over the status of Yucca Mountain, which was once the federal government’s only long-term nuclear storage site before being de-funded. In response, Perry said the Nevadans against using the mountain to store waste were “on the same page of the hymnbook.”
He pledged “to work very closely with you and the members of this committee to find the answers to these challenges that we have, and hopefully this is the beginning of seeing real movement, real management of an issue that I think no longer can set and the use as a political football.”
Update at 10:43 a.m. Asked by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) if he would “commit to using science as your guide when making policy,” Perry related his experience of using data to track, and then respond to, Hurricane Katrina. “That data happen to be, unfortunately, wrong for that particular storm. But the point is, I made decisions based on the most sound signs that I could find,” he said.
Update at 10:30 a.m. Cantwell pressed Rick Perry Thursday on a questionnaire the Trump transition team sent the agency asking for the names of employees who had attended climate change meetings.
Perry said during his confirmation hearing that the questionnaire “went out before I was ever selected as the nominee to sit before this committee.”
“I didn’t approve it. I don’t approve of it,” he said. “I don’t need that information. I don’t want that information. That is not how I manage.”
Pressed further, Perry said “I’m going to protect all of the science related, whether it’s to the climate or to the other aspects of what we’re going to be doing.”
Challenged by Cantwell yet again, Perry continued to sidestep the issue, saying he would “protect the men and women of the scientific community from anyone that would attack them, no matter what that reason may be at the Department of Energy.”
Update at 10:28 a.m. Cantwell challenged Perry on his assertion that energy strategy should not “compromise economic growth.” “Well, I guarantee you today we’re compromising economic growth,” she said, “because of our over-dependence on fossil fuel.” Cantwell pressed Perry to acknowledge the economic costs of energy strategy outside of limiting fossil fuel development.
Update at 10:17 a.m. Perry apologized in his opening statement for proposing that the department be eliminated when he was a presidential candidate in 2012. “My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” Perry said. “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”
He also went a step beyond the President-elect in acknowledging a connection between human activity and climate change. Perry told senators that he believed “the climate is changing” and that “some” of that change is naturally occurring, while some is caused by man-made activity. “The question is how we address in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth,” he said.
Updated 10:08 a.m. The New York Times reported Thursday morning that Despite criticism of the article, Per Washington Post media reporter Eric Wemple, The New York Times was standing by its story reporting that Perry was not fully aware of what the secretary of energy did when he was offered the job by Trump. The Times said the article “accurately reflected what multiple, high-level sources told our reporters,” according to Wemple.
Perry himself appeared to acknowledge the learning curve he experienced while getting up-to-speed on the responsibilities of the energy secretary during the confirmation hearing.
“This process has been extremely informative and beneficial for me. The individual discussions that we’ve had in your offices, in some cases over the phone afterwards, have been most important,” he told the Senate committee members in opening statements.
Later, he added that his “past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the department of energy did not reflect my current thinking. In fact, after being briefed on some of the vital functions the department of energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”
Update at 10:03 a.m. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the former governor of West Virginia, introduced his Republican colleague at the committee hearing by noting that Perry had coordinated an influx of displaced people following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “No one gave us a manual when we became governor. We didn’t know everything that it entailed. We had to learn while we were there, and let me tell you something, you have to get up to speed quick,” he said. “So I have no doubt that Rick is going to not only do the job, he’s going to excel in the job.”
Update at 9:49 a.m. Cantwell also noted that the Department of Energy’s researchers have played a key role in studying climate change. “I believe it is the consensus of the scientific community that climate change is real, that it’s happening now and it is due to human activity,” she said. “Yesterday NASA just announced 2015 was the warmest year on record. In the arctic, where warming is happening faster than any place on Earth, the melting of sea ice is now at an all-time high. How do we know all of this? We know because the Department of Energy does the research.
Update at 9:48 a.m. Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) reminded Perry in her opening remarks that he “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.”
Update at 9:39 a.m. Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) noted in her opening remarks that she does not “subscribe to the view that only a scientist can manage other scientists. Instead I’m a what we need is a good manager,” in reference to Perry’s background.
Original story: Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for energy secretary, is scheduled to face questioning Thursday in a confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Perry is expected to face a relatively easier confirmation process than other Cabinet nominees, including State Department pick Rex Tillerson, Education Department pick Betsy DeVos and Health and Human Services pick Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), whom senators from both parties have grilled on their political ideologies and ability to check the President-elect.
Still, while Perry will be replacing Dr. Ernest Moniz for the position, and will similarly oversee America’s nuclear arsenal, he lacks Moniz’s doctorate from Stanford and eight honorary degrees. Moniz also never campaigned for president on a platform of eliminating the federal agency he was tasked to lead, which Perry did in 2012.
Ahead of Perry’s confirmation hearing, here’s what to watch for:
1. Does Rick Perry know what the Department of Energy does? According to a New York Times report out Thursday, the former Texas governor took up Trump’s offer to lead the Department of Energy enthusiastically, with the expectation that he would do what he did in Texas: be a champion for the oil and gas industries, reign in regulation and watch the energy sector boom.
However, the Department of Energy spends most of its annual budget on something completely separate from fossil fuels: the nuclear arsenal.
“If you asked him on that first day he said yes, he would have said, ‘I want to be an advocate for energy,’” Michael McKenna, who advised Perry’s 2016 presidential campaign, and then Trump’s transition team, told the New York Times. “If you asked him now, he’d say, ‘I’m serious about the challenges facing the nuclear complex.’ It’s been a learning curve.”
2. Will he defend the independence of department staff? When the Trump transition team asked the Department of Energy to list the names of every one of its employees who had attended climate change summits, as well as emails and other documents, some believed it had set in motion an intentional effort to gut the agency of climate scientists.
The department ultimately refused to name anyone. Democratic senators will likely demand to know whether Perry will defend the integrity of Department of Energy climate scientists, an open question in the Trump era.
3. Will he choke? Perry’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 ended dramatically, when he forgot one of the three federal agencies he pledged to eliminate as president during a live televised debate.
“Commerce, Education and… What’s the third one there?” Perry said, forgetting the Department of Energy.
That “oops moment” ended his chance at the big time. Luckily, he can take notes with him to the confirmation hearing.