- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2017

As he seeks to lead the Energy Department, a contrite Rick Perry came before the Senate Thursday and said he was wrong to advocate the elimination of that same agency, telling lawmakers that, if necessary, he’ll fight his would-be boss for more funding at the department.

The former Texas governor’s appearance Thursday morning before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee completed Mr. Perry’s full reversal from just a few years ago. During his 2012 presidential run, he said he wanted to see the Energy Department shuttered as part of a broader plan to shrink the size of the federal government.

Now, Mr. Perry said, he understands the deep importance of the department, and he also tried to assuage Democrats’ concerns by declaring he believes climate change is real, that man has contributed to it, and that his agency’s research into global warming should continue.

“I have learned a great deal about the important work being done every day by the outstanding men and women of the DOE … If confirmed, my desire is to lead this agency in a thoughtful manner, surrounding myself with expertise on the core functions of the department,” Mr. Perry said.

“My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” the former governor continued. “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”

During his more than four hours before the committee, Mr. Perry on several occasions took positions that clashed with his past stances and with the ones currently held by President-elect Donald Trump.

On climate change, Mr. Perry distanced himself from past comments that cast doubt on global warming. He told senators it’s a serious issue, but that he’d try to balance any efforts to fight climate change with the need for energy development and economic growth.

He said he disagreed with Mr. Trump’s past claim that climate change is a “hoax.”

Mr. Perry also was challenged on reports that the incoming Trump administration will try to dramatically cut funding at the department, including slashing money for clean energy research.

“It’s hard to see how we can pursue an all-of-the-above energy strategy if so much of the department’s all-of-the-above capabilities are eliminated,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono, Hawaii Democrat, referring to reports Mr. Trump wants to cut the Energy Department’s budget.

“Maybe they’ll have the same experience I had and forget they said that,” Mr. Perry responded.

The former governor also disavowed the Trump transition team’s efforts to identify employees inside the department who had worked on climate change initiatives during President Obama’s tenure.

He said he did not approve of a December questionnaire sent to the Energy Department that asked for a full listing of those workers.

“That questionnaire you referenced went out before I was ever selected as the nominee to sit before this committee,” he said. “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. I have a history of working with people to find answers to challenges that face us.”

Trump transition leaders later said the questionnaire should not have been sent, and that the official who sent the document had been disciplined.

Mr. Perry also said he’s committed to finding a permanent storage facility for the nation’s nuclear waste, vowing to finally make a decision whether to open a repository at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. He wouldn’t say, however, whether he supported the Yucca Mountain plan.

“Hopefully this is the beginning of seeing a real movement, real management, of an issue that I think can no longer sit and be used as a political football,” Mr. Perry said, adding that any decisions on Yucca Mountain will be guided solely by science.

“I’m going to hold you to your word,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat deeply opposed to the Yucca project.

More broadly, supporters of Mr. Perry said the former governor deserves credit for not only maintaining Texas’ place as a oil-and-gas giant but also for making the state the No. 1 wind power producer in the country.

“I believe he possesses an all-of-the-above energy policy that will find the balance between economy and the environment,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, who introduced Mr. Perry before the committee on Thursday.

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