At Senate Hearing, Trump Nominee Perry Vows to Tap Governor Experience in Leading DOE

The Department of Energy (DOE) may see budget cuts under the administration of Donald Trump, but former Texas governor Rick Perry has experience in dealing with budget cuts, prioritizing funding and solving problems, Perry told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee January 19.

During the committee’s hearing to consider his nomination, Trump’s nominee to be DOE secretary vowed to work with senators on several issues such as LNG exports, power grid cybersecurity, support for renewable resources, nuclear waste storage and maintaining the work of the DOE laboratories around the nation.

Climate Change. Several times during the hearing, Perry said he would support an “all of the above” energy policy if he is confirmed. In response to several questions about climate change, he said he believes the climate is changing and that some of it is naturally occurring and some caused by manmade activity. The challenge for states and the federal government is to address it in a way that doesn’t compromise economic growth, the affordability of energy or American jobs, he said.

“When it comes to climate change, I am committed to making decisions based on sound science that also take into account the economic impact,” he said.

Perry repeatedly referred to his record as governor of Texas, with wind power additions and other steps that reduced power plant emissions while he was in office, adherence to scientific data to inform policy decisions, prioritizing funding for issues that improved lives and growing the economy. “I have firsthand experience with the shale energy boom that revolutionized American energy and with state-led cleanup efforts to improve our environment. As governor, I also learned the management skills for running a state, and have the executive experience necessary for leading an organization” as large as DOE, he said.

Perry sought to distance himself from some of his past comments about climate change and DOE, such as his suggestion that DOE should be eliminated when he was a presidential candidate. Those statements “do not reflect my current thinking,” and he regrets the recommendation to eliminate the agency, he said.

DOE Questionnaire. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) asked about a questionnaire from the Trump transition team that went to DOE employees inquiring about work on climate change issues. The Trump transition team has since indicated that the questionnaire was not authorized by the transition team.

That questionnaire was sent to DOE before he was nominated to lead DOE, Perry said. “I don’t need that information. I don’t want that information. That is not how I manage,” he told Cantwell.

In response to several questions from senators, Perry committed to reach across the political aisle and across the Trump administration to other agencies and work on solutions to energy challenges, whether those are climate change, cybersecurity, nuclear waste or scientific research.

Cybersecurity. Addressing cybersecurity, Perry said DOE “has a massive role” to help protect the power grid and his history of working with the private sector and government agencies should serve him well if the Senate confirms him.

Several of DOE’s labs that are working on supercomputers and other technologies can be put to work to enhance cybersecurity protections and detect intentions from foreign interests looking to do harm to the U.S., he said.

Elimination of DOE Offices. The hearing took place as news outlets reported on Trump transition team plans for massive cuts in the federal bureaucracy and the elimination of several DOE offices. The plans would trim funding for nuclear physics and advanced computing research to 2008 levels, eliminate DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy, Office of Electricity and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, according to The Hill and other news reports.

Several senators asked Perry about the reports, which were not available when the hearing began. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said she believed Perry would support DOE research on a host of issues, but questioned how he could accomplish that goal if he faces drastic budget cuts.

Perry said he did not know if the news reports are accurate, and cautioned the panel that not everything on the Internet is true. But he vowed to be an advocate for technologies that improve the U.S. and to stand up within the administration for DOE research. “I can’t assure you that I’ll be 100% successful on this, but I’ll commit to work on it,” he told Stabenow.

Perry also referred to his 14 years as governor, when there were tight fiscal years and budget negotiations that were a challenge. While he pointed to successes of the Texas economy under his watch, “it wasn’t all blue skies and smooth sailing” on budget issues, he said.

Republican senators on the committee were generally more affable than their Democrat colleagues in seeking commitments on a host of issues from Perry. But they all sought to ensure Perry would strive to maintain DOE support for various issues of interest in their states, such as a coal-fired power plant with units scheduled to close in Montana, federal power marketing administrations in the West, uranium enrichment efforts in Ohio, and DOE research taking place in several states.

Scientific Research. Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she hoped Perry will take a broad view of the importance of scientific research being done by DOE and pursue the benefits that result from it. “Done right, in a disciplined manner, a good set of innovation policies will provide us with more energy, reduce the amount of energy that we use, and lower the costs we pay for energy,” she said.

“In my view, those should be guiding principles for the Department, so I encourage you to work with the rest of the administration to increase access to energy, to make it more affordable, and to continue to improve its environmental performance,” Murkowski told Perry.

Murkowski said that outgoing DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz made progress in breaking down some of the silos within the agency that have historically frustrated lawmakers and DOE stakeholders, but she believes there is more to be done so that offices within DOE do a better job working together to use limited resources and reduce unnecessary duplication.

LNG. LNG issues came up during the hearing, with two senators providing Perry with different perspectives. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) commented that the DOE permitting process for LNG export facilities has been too lengthy and unpredictable. Congressional legislative efforts to expedite the permitting process have not been successful thus far, but Barrasso asked Perry if he would support such a measure.

Perry said he will follow the laws and instructions from Congress, noting that natural gas is a growing American resource within the energy portfolio.

Sen. Angus King (D-Maine) presented concerns about significant growth in LNG exports that could raise natural gas prices for U.S. consumers. “Low-priced natural gas is a national asset that I’d hate to lose,” and the pending LNG export facilities make that a concern, he said, asking Perry if domestic gas prices will be a factor in determining whether LNG facilities are in the public interest.

Perry committed to not making decisions that would alter the supply and demand balance too heavily, and checking with other agencies to ensure that domestic resources would be available to address domestic gas demand. Even so, “if we produce it in America it makes sense to sell it to the world,” Perry said in reference to LNG.

Perry noted that he has spoken with Moniz several times and learned more about the important and complex work being done by DOE staffers on numerous matters. “If confirmed, my desire is to lead this agency in a thoughtful manner, surrounding myself with expertise on the core functions of the department,” he said.

 

This article appears as published in The Foster Report No. 3132, issued January 20, 2017

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