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Rick Perry disavows DOE questionnaire sent by Trump team in Senate hearing

Megan Geuss
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 19: Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, President-elect Donald Trump's choice as Secretary of Energy, testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Capitol Hill January 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. Perry is expected to face questions about his connections to the oil and gas industry. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
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On Thursday, former Texas Governor Rick Perry appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to answer questions from the senators, who will vote on whether Perry will become the nation’s Energy Secretary. The Republican-controlled Senate gave him little trouble this morning, although Democratic and Independent senators lobbed a few tough questions.
Perry’s nomination has been controversial, notably because in a 2011 presidential primary election debate, he couldn’t remember the name of one of the departments he promised to eliminate as president—that department was the Department of Energy (DOE). He also drew criticism after The New York Times reported last night that Perry had accepted the energy secretary nomination unaware that more than half of the Department of Energy’s budget is devoted to managing the US nuclear arsenal as well as directing nuclear energy facilities’ cleanup and maintenance. 
At the Senate hearing today, Perry attempted to persuade senators that he actually wanted the job. “My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” Perry said in his opening statements. “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”
Perry has also attracted criticism for his so-so performance in college, especially given that the current energy secretary is a nuclear physicist, his predecessor was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, and the secretary before that was an MIT-trained chemical engineer. But Perry's supporters, like Committee Chairwoman Murkowski (R-Ala.), didn't seem to mind. “I don’t subscribe to the theory that only scientists can manage other scientists. I think what we need is a good manager,” she said.
Although nuclear capabilities are a vital part of the DOE’s mission, directing the department’s national laboratories and funding energy research would also come under Perry’s purview. But his nomination has also drawn criticism because he’s vocally denied that climate change is happening, even, according to Senator Al Franken, claiming in a 2010 book that the Earth was going through a “cooling trend.” This has been flatly denied by almost all climate researchers.
Perry tried to head off these criticisms in his opening statements, saying he does believe in climate change now. But throughout the hearing, Perry was unwilling to walk back his previous statements about climate change completely and admit that the changing climate is significantly related to human activity, a point which science also supports. Today, Perry only noted that “parts of it are created by human activity.”
One of the first questions out of the gate came from Senator Cantwell (D-Wash.), who asked about a controversial questionnaire sent to the DOE by the Trump administration transition team asking the department to provide a list of all employees who worked on climate change research. The questionnaire sparked fears that the new administration, whose leader has been openly hostile to science, would try to purge DOE employees who work on projects Trump doesn’t personally like. After the DOE refused to provide that information to the transition team in December, the team disavowed the memo and said it was not authorized. Perry seemed to agree that it was improper to ask for the names of career scientists and employees, many of whom served under both Bush and Obama administrations. “That questionnaire that you reference went out before I was even selected,” Perry said. “I didn’t approve it, I don’t approve of it, I don’t need that information, I don’t want that information.”
Senator Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) asked Perry repeatedly about his opinions on nuclear waste, an issue that has concerned Nevada, especially as many of the state’s residents have been vocally against a proposed nuclear waste storage facility near Yucca Mountain. Perry responded diplomatically that nuclear waste is a problem that “this country has been flummoxed by for 30 years, and we have spent billions of dollars on this issue.” But toward the end of the hearing he stopped short of assuring Senator Masto that the question of Yucca Mountain would be dropped completely.
Other senators were concerned about a report that was published in The Hill this morning saying that the Trump team planned “dramatic cuts” across all sectors of federal government, including DOE programs. In cuts specific to the DOE, The Hill reported that funding for nuclear physics and advanced scientific computing research would be slashed and that the Office of Electricity, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and the Office of Fossil Energy (which focuses on ways to limit greenhouse gases from fossil fuel use) would be totally eliminated.
“Square this with me. How do you see your role?” Sen. Stabenow (D-Mich.) asked, referencing the reported cuts. Perry said he hadn’t been privy to the conversations that The Hill reports were based on, adding that just because it’s on the Internet “doesn’t mean it’s true.” Later, responding to similar questions from Sen. Hirono (D-Hi.) about the reported budget cuts, Perry joked that maybe the people in the Trump administration who wanted those cuts will “have the same experience I had and forget that they said that.”
A moment of levity broke up the questioning when Sen. Franken (D-Minn.) thanked Perry for meeting with him before the hearing in Franken’s office.
“I hope you are as much fun on that dais as you were on that couch,” Perry said, initially unaware of how his words painted a much more intimate scene than what actually took place. The audience giggled. Perry realized what he said, laughed, and added, “May I rephrase that?” Open laughter broke out in the chamber.
“Please,” Franken deadpanned.
“I think we found our SNL soundbite,” Perry returned.
After that exchange, Sen. Sanders (I-Vt.) pressed Perry on whether he believed climate change is a crisis and human actions are to blame. “I believe the climate’s changing,” Perry said. “I believe some of it is naturally occurring, I believe that some of it has been caused by man-made activity.” This statement is contrary to the research that has been produced by scientists for decades showing that climate change is human-caused.
Sanders also pressed Perry to clarify his position on nuclear weapons testing, but Perry resisted giving a clear answer. “I think it’s really important for the US to have a nuclear arsenal that is modern, that is safe,” Perry said, adding that he would rely on the opinions of DOE scientists to make any relevant judgements. “I think anyone would be of the opinion that if we don’t ever have to test another nuclear weapon that would be a good thing not just for the United States, but for the world.”
The nuclear weapons questions were especially pertinent given some of President Elect Trump’s brash statements about nuclear proliferation. But Perry toed a more mainstream line today, saying “I think nonproliferation is a good thing in a general sense,” all while adding that he couldn’t make a definitive comment until he had a classified briefing.
Perry also seemed quite positive about nuclear energy and waste cleanup, telling Senator Flake (R-Ariz.) that he found the concept of small modular reactors “fascinating” and promising Senator Heinrich (D-N.M.) that money would be allocated to keep the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) open and safe.
Throughout the hearing, Perry repeated that he'd follow an "all of the above" approach to energy, meaning he would support renewable energy development as well as oil, natural gas, and coal—a reversal from the current administration's efforts to push for non-greenhouse-gas-emitting energy sources. While Perry's tenure as governor saw a boom in wind energy, he also has close ties to the fossil fuel industry, only this month stepping down from the board of Energy Transfer Partners, the controversial company at the heart of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
Rick Perry disavows DOE questionnaire sent by Trump team in Senate hearing Reviewed by Chidinma C Amadi on 7:25 PM Rating: 5

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