Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, tapped by President-elect Donald Trump to head the Energy Department, said Thursday he regrets his infamous statement about abolishing the federal agency and insisted it performs a critical function.
Perry told a Senate committee that if confirmed, he will be a passionate advocate for the department's core missions and will seek to draw "greater attention to the vital role played by the agency," especially in protecting and modernizing the nation's nuclear stockpile.
"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."
In 2011, at a Republican presidential primary debate, Perry was something of a punchline who famously forgot the department was the agency he pledged to eliminate.
Perry also pledged to promote and develop American energy in all forms, advance the department's science and technology mission and carefully dispose of nuclear waste. And he acknowledged that climate change is real.
"I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by man-made activity," Perry told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "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."
Perry, who served 14 years at Texas governor, was for "all of the above" on energy production before President Barack Obama embraced the strategy.
Years before the Democratic president endorsed all types of energy production — from oil and gas to renewable sources like wind and solar power — Perry was putting the policy into practice in Texas.
During Perry's tenure as governor, Texas maintained its traditional role as a top driller for oil and natural gas, while also emerging as the leading producer of wind power in the United States and a top 10 provider of solar power.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia introduced Perry, a rarity for one of Trump's Cabinet selections. Manchin called Perry a successful executive of a state with a diverse energy portfolio and a longtime friend.
Neil Auerbach, CEO of Hudson Clean Energy Partners, an investment firm that specializes in renewable energy, called Perry's nomination a "hopeful signal" that Trump and congressional Republicans "will remain true to Republican orthodoxy about 'all of the above' as the mantra steering U.S. energy policy."
Even as he maintains ties to oil and gas producers, a Perry-led Energy Department is likely to support renewable energy and the tax incentives that encourage its growth, Auerbach and other experts said.
Perry, 66, left office in 2015 and then launched his second ill-fated bid for the GOP presidential nomination. He was a harsh critic of Trump, even calling the billionaire businessman a "cancer" on conservatism, but later endorsed the Republican nominee.
Democrats and environmental groups have derided Perry's nomination, calling him a steep drop-off from the two renowned physicists who preceded him as energy chief, Steven Chu and Ernest Moniz. Perry earned a bachelor's degree in animal science from Texas A&M University, where he was also a member of the Corps of Cadets and a Yell Leader.
Perry has received support from a surprising source: Moniz, who told reporters that Perry "is very intent on doing a good job."
Moniz said last week that he and Perry had discussed the "special role" of the Energy Department's 17 national laboratories, which Moniz called the "backbone" of U.S. science.
"I believe as he sees the range of significant missions and the centrality of the labs and the success, I think he will see the value added. And I trust that will lead to his strong support," Moniz said.
Perry also is likely to be questioned about his ties to energy companies, including two that are developing the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline. Perry resigned Dec. 31 from the boards of Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners. The 1,200-mile pipeline has sparked mass protests in North Dakota.
Perry said he still owns stock in the two companies but will divest within three months of his confirmation and will not take part in any decisions involving the companies for at least two years.
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