WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2017 – Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry promised senators today that he is capable of running the Energy Department and has changed some key beliefs since famously saying during a past presidential bid that the department should be abolished.
“My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” Perry said at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”
It wasn’t enough to preempt a few lawmakers from bringing that statement up during the hearing.
While several Republican senators pushed Perry for reassurances that the Trump administration would support the coal industry, a popular Democratic theme was climate change.
Trump, who is scheduled to be sworn in as president on Friday, has called climate change a hoax, and Perry has previously said he didn’t believe global warming was impacted by human activity.
But Perry took a different tack at today’s confirmation hearing.
"I believe the climate is changing. I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by man-made activity,” he said in his opening testimony. “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.”
That didn’t satisfy several committee members, including Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary and was perhaps Perry’s toughest questioner.
Sanders tried repeatedly to get Perry to respond on whether he thought climate change was a “crisis,” but ultimately failed.
“We are in danger of spending god knows how many billions of dollars to repair the damage caused by pollution,” Sanders said. “Drought is becoming a major crisis and will impact agriculture in very significant ways … It is a global crisis that requires massive cuts in carbon and transformation of our energy system.”
For Republicans, and a lone Democrat, coal was a popular subject. Senators lamented what they said were efforts to kill the coal industry by the Obama administration, and Perry promised to look into ways to help the sector through Energy Department research.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., called on Perry to help steer more research dollars to make coal a greener fuel. As of 2015, 66 percent of the energy produced in America came from coal or natural gas, Manchin said, but complained that only 13 percent of research funds went toward studying those fuels.
Speaking to Agri-Pulse on the sidelines of the hearing, Manchin said he has discussed his concerns with Trump and believes he got his message across.
“I think it will change – absolutely,” Manchin said.
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