Perry says he regrets call to eliminate Energy Department

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits at the George R. Brown Convention Center on May 3, 2013 in Houston, Texas. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday he regrets his infamous statement about abolishing the Energy Department and insisted that the federal agency performs a critical function.

Perry, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to head the department, told a Senate committee that if confirmed, he will be a passionate advocate for the department's core missions and will seek to draw "greater attention to the vital role played by the agency."

In remarks for his confirmation hearing, Perry also said he believes the climate is changing.

"I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by man-made activity," Perry said in his prepared testimony before 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."

In 2011, at a Republican presidential primary debate, Perry was something of a punchline who famously forgot the department was the agency he pledged to eliminate.

Perry, who served 14 years at Texas governor, was for "all of the above" on energy production before President Barack Obama embraced the strategy.

Years before the Democratic president endorsed all types of energy production — from oil and gas to renewable sources like wind and solar power — Perry was putting the policy into practice in Texas.

During Perry's record 14-year tenure as governor, Texas maintained its traditional role as a top driller for oil and natural gas, while also emerging as the leading producer of wind power in the United States and a top 10 provider of solar power.

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Neil Auerbach, CEO of Hudson Clean Energy Partners, an investment firm that specializes in renewable energy, called Perry's nomination a "hopeful signal" that President-elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans "will remain true to Republican orthodoxy about 'all of the above' as the mantra steering U.S. energy policy."

Even as he maintains ties to oil and gas producers, a Perry-led Energy Department is likely to support renewable energy and the tax incentives that encourage its growth, Auerbach and other experts said.

Perry, 66, left office in 2015 and then launched his second ill-fated bid for the GOP presidential nomination. He was a harsh critic of Trump, even calling the billionaire businessman a "cancer" on conservatism, but later endorsed the Republican nominee.

Democrats and environmental groups have derided Perry's nomination, calling him a steep drop-off from the two renowned physicists who preceded him as energy chief, Steven Chu and Ernest Moniz. Perry earned a bachelor's degree in animal science from Texas A&M University, where he was also a member of the Corps of Cadets and a Yell Leader.

Perry has received support from a surprising source: Moniz, who told reporters that Perry "is very intent on doing a good job."

Moniz said last week that he and Perry had discussed the "special role" of the Energy Department's 17 national laboratories, which Moniz called the "backbone" of U.S. science.

"I believe as he sees the range of significant missions and the centrality of the labs and the success, I think he will see the value added. And I trust that will lead to his strong support," Moniz said.

Democrats say Perry is likely to face questions about climate science, nuclear waste storage and cleanup, clean energy innovation and the national labs, among other topics.

Perry also is likely to be questioned about his ties to energy companies, including two that are developing the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline. Perry resigned Dec. 31 from the boards of Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners. The 1,200-mile pipeline has sparked mass protests in North Dakota.

Perry said he still owns stock in the two companies but will divest within three months of his confirmation and will not take part in any decisions involving the companies for at least two years.

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