WASHINGTON (KXAN/AP) — Former Texas Governor Rick Perry faced Senate lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Thursday for a confirmation hearing to head the Energy Department. During the hearing, Perry vowed to be an advocate for an agency he once pledged to eliminate and promised to rely on federal scientists, including those who work on climate change.
The Energy Department is the department that Perry famously couldn’t remember during a 2011 presidential debate when listing the areas of government he would eliminate if elected. Perry addressed this statement at the hearing saying that “My past statements about abolishing the department do not reflect my current thoughts, I regret recommending its elimination.”
At his confirmation hearing, 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.”
Opponents say the former governor does not have the background or experience with nuclear weapons that he needs for the position, which he didn’t know much about.
According to the New York Times, shortly after Perry accepted the nomination, it was only then that he learned that much of the job involves keeping watch over the nation’s large nuclear weapons. At least 66 percent of the Department of Energy’s $30 billion budget goes towards keeping the country’s nuclear stockpile safe.
Perry also elicited laughs when he told Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., that he enjoyed meeting him at Franken’s Senate office, adding: “I hope you are as much fun on the dais as you were on the couch.”
Franken, a former comedian, paused for effect as Perry asked to rephrase. “Please,” Franken said, “Please, oh lord.”
“I think we found our ‘Saturday Night Live’ soundbite,” Perry joked. Franken was a writer and actor on the show in the 1970s and 1980s.
Supporters say Perry’s nomination is a big deal for Texas. While opponents believe he does not have enough experience for the job.
While he was governor, Texas was number one in oil, natural gas and wind energy, which Perry strongly supported during his 14 years as governor. And, Texas has the nation’s second-largest budget. Proponents say that part of his job as governor serves as strong managerial experience he can use at the Department of Energy.
Texas is also home to a DOE nuclear weapons plant, Pantex, in Amarillo. Though the former governor was never in charge of that plant.
“The world headquarters for energy technology is here in Texas,” said Ray Sullivan, Perry’s former aide. “A lot of the military installations that involve nuclear weapons that the energy department oversees are here in Texas. This is a big deal for the state.”
If confirmed, Perry would become the third Texan to hold the position. The current secretary, Ernest Moniz, was the head of M-I-T’s Physics department. Before him, Steven Chu had the job. He won the Nobel Prize in physics. The secretary of energy works on energy education and developing technologies for energy efficiency.