WASHINGTON (CN) – Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, came before the Senate on Thursday to be confirmed as secretary for a department he once forgot existed.
The slip came during a November 2011 Republican presidential debate. Though Perry had talked on the campaign trail about dismantling the Energy Department, the agency’s name famously slipped Perry’s mind when asked to name the three government agencies he would shutter if elected. Trailing off after Commerce and Education, Perry could muster only that he was not thinking of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“I can’t, the third one, sorry,” he said. “Oops.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington brought up the gaffe while opening the former governor’s confirmation hearing Thursday before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
“I’m sure you’ve had some time to think about it and now hopefully have changed your mind,” she said, alluding to the role the Energy Department plays across various national industries.
“We want people to understand the work of the DOE is not just an academic pursuit,” Cantwell said. “We need the information for very important decisions … and we hope you will be someone who believes in the science mission of this agency and will lead it to the best of your abilities.”
Perry’s record is littered with instances of his resistance to climate science. The governor once ordered the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to remove references to “climate change” from an official state report.
In his 2010 book, “Fed Up!,” Perry once criticized Democrats who accepted the “so-called science” of climate change. He doubled down on this during his 2012 presidential campaign, saying: “There are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.”
Perry demurred this morning in his recognizable Southern drawl. “I’ve learned a great deal about the work at the DOE,” he said.
“My past statements do not reflect my current thinking. In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions, I regret recommending it’s elimination.”
Perry continued his mea culpa and offered another olive branch to the committee.
“I believe the climate is changing,” he said. “Some of it is naturally occurring, some is manmade activity. The question is, how do we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth?”
While the Democratic Cantwell pushed Perry to make promises of “protecting science and scientists,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican of Alaska, took a different tack.
Offering him a vote of confidence, Murkowski told the committee that she didn’t believe “only a scientist could oversee other scientists.” What the department really needs at its head is a “good manager,” Murkowski continued.
Perry quickly reaffirmed his newfound convictions on science when Cantwell’s scrutinized him again. This time she asked Perry to openly declare his commitment to the DOE’s scientific underpinnings, including probes into existing threats to cybersecurity.
“I’ll protect all of the science, including cyber,” Perry said emphatically. “I don’t care who it is, what players, whether it’s a foreign state or a group that is loosely associated. If they’re trying to penetrate Americans lives, whether it’s private citizens or at the highest level of government, you will see me at the DOE willing to work across all agencies.”
Trying to strike a balance between the GOP’s usual calls for the protection of free enterprise and Democrats focus on environmental protection, Perry referred to successes in his home state.
During Perry’s 15-year governorship, he said Texas cut its carbon emissions by 17 percent, sulfur oxide by 56 percent and nitrogen oxide by 66 percent. Perry also boasted of the 137 “dirty-burning” plants his state closed.
“We did it by using incentives to use clean technology like clean coal, carbon capture and underground storage,” he said, adding that a $1 billion carbon capture sequestration plant will open in Houston soon.
“If we can see that type of competitive pressure [against] places like China, then we have served the citizens of this world well,” Perry said.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat of Michigan, traded war stories with the onetime governor, explaining her state’s myriad energy and manufacturing challenges. Citing DOE-led projects like the SuperTruck Initiative, which increased freight efficiency while cutting fuel consumption, Sen. Stabenow questioned emerging news out of the incoming Trump administration.
“I believe you when you say you support [DOE] projects,” she said. “But now we’re hearing in the press that the White House and the transition team are using Heritage Foundation budget proposals [as the framework] to roll back funding for nuclear science and advanced science computing research to 2008 levels.”
Stabenow continued, saying that conservative think tank’s proposal to the new administration also included the elimination of several critical DOE branches including the Office of Electricity, Delivery and Energy Reliability and the Office of Fossil Energy. The OFE specifically focuses on technology to reduce carbon emissions.
“Square this for me,” Sen. Stabenow began, “How do you see your role, coming into a new position where we’re talking about massive cuts to the kinds of things you have advocated for?”
Perry responded that he couldn’t answer as to whether the reports were true.
“But I know from my perspective, moving America forward on the competing side is incredibly important for the country’s security,” he said. “I have no questions about whether or not the Trump administration is going to be very supportive of keeping America strong and free. The technologies that come out of the DOE, in many cases, will play an important role in that.”
The Heritage Foundation did not return a call for comment.
Perry again promised to maintain his commitment to “making sound science and economic science connect together.”
Given his nomination by President-elect Donald Trump, Perry might very well have the ability to salvage connections. The nominee once called his possible future boss a “cancer on conservatism.”
Trump was kinder to Perry in announcing the ex-governor’s nomination, praising Perry for his state’s job production and low energy prices.