Skeptics Rip Rick Perry as Trump's Pick to Lead Department of Energy

Amanda Sakuma
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry talks to supporters before announcing that he will run for president in 2016.
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Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is about to lead a critical agency that he once planned to abolish — if only he had remembered the department's name.

But it's not so much his gaffe proposing the imminent demise of the Department of Energy that has scientists and policy experts worried. Instead it's what Perry, a vocal climate change skeptic, plans to do once he takes over.

Perry staunchly rejects action to reduce carbon emissions. As recently as 2011 he said publicly that the "science is not settled" on whether man-made global warming is even real, claiming that a "substantial number" of scientists manipulated their data in a scheme to boost their funding.

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He is now set to join an administration flush with fellow cabinet picks who are openly hostile toward the concept of climate change, all with President-elect Donald Trump at the helm, who has called climate change a hoax orchestrated by the Chinese.

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Perry's appointment means the heads of the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and State Department are all cozy with the oil and gas industry, a dynamic that will likely slant future energy policy toward that direction, said Kim Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"It could mean a significant weakening of the climate change regulations and initiatives during the Obama administration that have started us on the path toward lowering our carbon emissions," Kimmell added.

Still, Perry has a mixed record that includes promoting clean energy options during his tenure as Texas governor — particularly when renewable energy was good for business. And he is credited for helping turn Texas into the largest wind producer in the country.

This leaves some experts optimistic that those investments will continue to be a win-win for the economy as well as the environment.

"Irrespective of whether Perry believes in the science of climate change, what he is going to find is that the science of economics will drive a lot of these energy investment decisions," said Alex Perera, global director of the World Resources Institute's Electricity Initiative.

Perry also faces scrutiny for potential business conflicts. According to the latest Securities and Exchange Commission report, Perry pulled in $236,820 for his spot on the board of directors for Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

It's not likely that Perry will take over the Department of Energy only to burn it to the ground. For one, a critical role of the department is to manage and maintain the U.S. nuclear stockpile. But therein lies Perry's biggest weakness, according to critics who are skeptical that he appreciates the full scope of his new role.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, issued a statement that slammed Perry for being "utterly unqualified" for the job.

"I'm not confident that Rick Perry is fully cognizant of the role that DOE plays in keeping our nuclear deterrent safe, secure and reliable," Heinrich said.

Perry has big shoes to fill in stacking up to the qualifications of his predecessor and overcoming his infamous "oops" moment from the 2011 debate where he forgot which federal agency he hoped to abolish.

Outgoing Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is a renowned nuclear physicist. By contrast, aside from the former Texas governor's two failed presidential runs, Perry's last gig was a stint on the reality competition show "Dancing with the Stars."