Rick Perry on Thursday became the nation’s energy secretary, placing the former Texas governor atop a department he once wanted to eliminate entirely.
Mr. Perry, a two-time presidential candidate who spent 14 years as the Lone Star State’s chief executive, was confirmed by a Senate vote of 62-37, drawing the support of 11 Democrats and all Republicans in the chamber, other than Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who was not present.
With the vote, President Trump now has his full energy and environmental team in place. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — who will oversee energy development on federal lands — was approved earlier this week, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was installed last month.
Mr. Perry took the oath of office on Thursday evening.
He will now oversee a massive department that runs a host of research facilities, is responsible for approving and inspecting nuclear power facilities, and even occasionally plays a role in foreign policy. During the Obama administration, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was a key part of the team that negotiated the international deal over Iran’s nuclear program.
Mr. Perry, as a 2012 candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, called for scrapping the department. He said the Energy Department should be shuttered as part of a broader plan to shrink the size and scope of the federal government.
During a primary debate, he could not remember that he wanted to eliminate the agency, leading to his infamous “Oops” moment that was partly responsible for sinking his White House bid.
Years later, Mr. Perry has changed his mind.
“My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” he told a Senate panel in January. “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination. If confirmed, I will enter this role excited and passionate about advancing the core missions of the DOE.”
Republicans and pro-energy development groups lauded Thursday’s vote and said Mr. Perry is the right choice for the department.
“We are confident that under Secretary Perry’s leadership, the Department of Energy will harness the intellectual power of our national labs, work toward substantive nuclear waste reform, protect and modernize our strategic nuclear arsenal, and remove politics from the science and research functions of the agency,” said Thomas Pyle, president of the conservative American Energy Alliance.
While Mr. Perry has been an outspoken ally of the oil and gas sector, he also oversaw a massive uptick in renewable energy in Texas during his time as governor, making the state No. 1 in the nation in wind power.
“Secretary Perry’s leadership on wind energy infrastructure as governor of Texas helped attract tens of billions of dollars in private investment to rural communities and create over 25,000 wind jobs in the state,” Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said after the vote. “The Texas success story with wind power has now become a model for America.”
Still, environmentalists largely disregard that record on clean energy and argue that Mr. Perry will be another voice for fossil fuels in the administration.
“A few weeks ago, we saw a man who has made it his mission to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency become its leader. We saw the former CEO of Exxon Mobil ascend to secretary of state. Now, we have a former climate change denier who has received millions of dollars from the oil and gas industry on track to lead the Department of Energy,” said Abigail Dillen, vice president at the environmental law organization Earthjustice.
In the past, Mr. Perry has expressed skepticism about man’s role in global warming. But he told a Senate panel earlier this year that he believes climate change is real and that humans have played a role in it.
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