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I regret recommending Department of Energy be eliminated, Energy Sec nominee Rick Perry says

Energy Secretary nominee Rick Perry said Thursday he regrets his 2011 call for the elimination of the agency he has been tapped to lead.

During a Republican presidential debate that year, Perry famously could not recall one of the three agencies he said he would eliminate if elected president in 2012. It was the Energy Department. The others were the Commerce and Education departments.

"My past statements, made over five years ago, about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking," the former Texas governor told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

"In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination," he said. "If confirmed, I will enter this role excited and passionate about advocating and advancing the core missions of the DOE, 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."

The Department of Energy maintains the nation's nuclear arsenal, manages cleanup related to nuclear energy and weapons testing, finances energy projects and conducts scientific research in strategic fields.

Rick Perry
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Rick Perry

Perry vowed to advocate for and promote energy in all forms, including renewable energy, and said he supports conducting research that may not pay off for a generation.

He made his statements just hours after The Hill reported the Trump administration plans to drastically reduce funding for government agencies, including the Energy Department.

The Hill said the cuts at the DOE include scaling back funding for nuclear physics and advanced scientific computing research to pre-Obama era levels, as well as getting rid of the Office of Electricity, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Office of Fossil Energy, which aims to produce technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Perry said he could not answer whether or not the report was true. He said he would advocate for developing technology at the Department of Energy that would keep America strong and safe.

The Trump transition team has already butted heads with the Energy Department. The agency refused the Trump team's request to provide a list of employees who worked on climate change initiatives.

That action raised concerns at the department among employees who feared they would be purged by Trump, who has called climate change a hoax. Perry said he had not yet been selected as Energy secretary when the inquiries contained in a questionnaire were sent.

"I didn't approve it. I don't approve of it. I don't need that information. I don't want that information. That is not how I manage," he said.

Perry sought to address his own past statements on climate change, including that the science on the issue is not settled and a "substantial number" of climate scientists have manipulated data to win funding for their projects.

"I believe the climate is changing. I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is caused by man-made activity. The question is how we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn't compromise economic growth" or affect "the affordability of energy or American jobs," he said.