As Congress votes to confirm President Trump’s Cabinet picks, how will the new agency heads shape this administration’s climate and energy agenda? E&ETV recently produced a series of discussions following the confirmation hearings of U.S. EPA administrator nominee Scott Pruitt, Department of Energy secretary nominee Rick Perry, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, and Interior Department secretary nominee Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.).
E&E News reporters Hannah Northey and Umair Irfan join E&ETV Managing Editor Monica Trauzzi for a discussion on the confirmation hearing for former Texas Governor Rick Perry (R), who has been nominated to head the Department of Energy.
Monica Trauzzi: Good afternoon. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for joining us from the E&E News newsroom in Washington, D.C. It was a hearing filled with laughter, quite unusual this morning's confirmation hearing for Rick Perry to head up the Department of Energy. And joining me with analysis of the hearing are E&E News reporters Hannah Northey and Umair Irfan. Thank you both for joining me. So probably the most laughter I've ever observed in a confirmation hearing. It was quite interesting. There seemed to be quite a rapport between Perry and the panel. What was the biggest news coming out of this hearing?
Hannah Northey: I would say a big point that came out is that he said that — he made some statements, although they weren't completely clear, that he would defend the scientists at the Department of Energy. It was a little less clear as to what's going to happen with the budget. The hearing did occur right as reports were emerging that there could be budget cuts, that the Trump transition team is considering budget cuts.
Another piece of news that came out right after the hearing was just how quickly the vote may move forward on his nomination. We heard that Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Republican chair of the committee, wants to possibly come to an agreement with other senators to move that vote to the floor as soon as tomorrow, so that was part of it. There was a lot to unpack today, so there's much.
Monica Trauzzi: What did you think was the biggest news?
Umair Irfan: I mean, I think that was a big issue, the fact that he would stand up for the scientists. He said that before in the past. And then the questionnaire, he said pointedly that it was not something he asked for and he did not want that information and that it was sent out before he even received the nomination.
Monica Trauzzi: Right. Do we know a little more clearly what his priorities would be if confirmed?
Umair Irfan: I think he made it clear that very few things would be off the table. He's pitched himself as an all-of-the-above energy guy, so from geothermal to nuclear to fossil fuels and renewables, he said that those are all things that he is in favor of. To what extent he will be pushing the levers on each one, that remains uncertain, and he was — though he's pledged support to all of them, it really matters where he's going to be placing the money.
Hannah Northey: Even on bigger projects like Yucca Mountain, he said that he was going to look at alternatives, that he would respect Nevada's opposition to the project, but he never really nailed down whether or not he would oppose or support that project, and the same thing with a lot of these states. He's going to be traveling around, and uranium enrichment project or Hanford, he's vowed to go to a lot of these states, but he didn't say whether he'd support them necessarily or not.
Monica Trauzzi: Right. And on coal specifically, we heard him say that he feels positive that some scientists or a lab — DOE or a lab has the technology to move forward and use coal. So you think we could see a big resurgence of research money put towards CCS and other types of technology?
Hannah Northey: Yeah. We caught up with Senator Hoeven after the hearing and he said that former Governor Perry has been really supportive about CCS despite these reports that there could be budget cuts, so I think so. I think you will see that support.
Monica Trauzzi: So there have been some reports this week circulating and there's some pushback on them that suggest that Perry did not initially understand what this job was about. Did he demonstrate understanding in today's hearing, do you think?
Umair Irfan: I think so. I mean, he answered the questions fluently and, though he did not give definite answers on a lot of the measures, he did understand the scope of the department. And regarding that particular report, when he was initially nominated back in December, he did put out a press release where he did specifically mention the nuclear mission at DOE, so it's not — it wasn't a complete surprise to him.
Hannah Northey: Yeah, he did make a point to reiterate today that he called the national labs the crown jewel and he did mention the nuclear arsenal when he was initially nominated, so yeah, I think he did.
Monica Trauzzi: Right, and I think that's why there's a little pushback on that reporting. So going back to the questionnaire that you had mentioned that the Trump transition team had circulated, which asked for the names of DOE staff that had participated in climate talks, he of course said he didn't approve of it. What more did we learn on his views on climate change?
Umair Irfan: There was a slight walking back of his views. I mean, he's gone as far as to say that the biggest source of CO2 emissions was Al Gore and has said that the science was not settled, but he did admit today that human activity plays a role in climate change. Under pointed questioning from Senator Sanders, who emphasized that it is a serious and urgent issue, Perry kind of backed away from that and said that this is an academic discussion and he wanted to focus more on pragmatic solutions that advance the economy and also bring down carbon emissions.
Monica Trauzzi: Do you feel the same?
Hannah Northey: Yeah, absolutely.
Monica Trauzzi: OK, so on the vote, you said this could happen rather rapidly. How are the votes going to settle? What's the verdict now?
Hannah Northey: Well, as far as I understand Murkowski would want a hotline there, a vote on their confirmation from what I understand. That means that all the senators would be in agreement to bring it to a floor vote. What we do know is that he will poise to, you know, move through the Senate E&R. Obviously the bulk of Republicans — all the Republicans really seem to support him, and Governor — sorry, Senator Manchin actually introduced him today, so he's supportive. But yeah, so it could be — along with Zinke too.
Monica Trauzzi: Questions that the panel missed?
Umair Irfan: It wasn't until the very end that you started hearing questions about the nuclear portfolio, and particularly the nuclear deal with Iran. Perry did say that he did not receive a classified briefing on that, which may not happen until after he is confirmed, but that was an important part of what Energy Secretary Moniz did. That was a big part of his legacy, and nuclear security going forward, I think they mentioned several times at the hearing, 60 percent of DOE's budget is nuclear weapons and cleanup.
Hannah Northey: And not necessarily a question that they missed, but they couldn't really pinpoint on him, which he said that the work of the agency would be supported, but some people were asking about specific offices, would they be scrapped or eliminated. He said that it wouldn't be his first order of business to change any names, that he may not do that, but I think a lot of people are left wondering what's going to happen to specific offices within DOE, whether they work on efficiency or renewables.
Monica Trauzzi: Right. All right, good stuff. Good reporting. Thanks for joining me.
Umair Irfan: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching.
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