The confirmation hearing for Rick Perry, president-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Energy, might best be summed up with an exchange he had with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.
As Manchin finished a five-minute soliloquy on why renewables will never be a significant part of the United States’ electricity production because it can’t provide “baseload” (“When I say that, no one knows what I mean,” Manchin said at one point) and pleaded with Perry to give his state to more money to research “clean coal,” the camera panned to the former governor, who leaned forward and smiled.
“Senator, don’t get me confused for the former administration,” Perry said.
Based on his testimony, combined with a budget outline revealing the energy priorities of the incoming administration, Perry has guaranteed no one will get the two administrations confused.
Perry began the day by seeming to soften his stance about Climate Change, which had previously been pretty staunchly on the side of the problem being mostly natural. Under questioning from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Perry said he now believes Climate Change is equal parts natural and human-made.
Sanders pressed Perry, asking him if he would call Climate Change a crisis. Perry dodged the question and refused to answer. The most significant portion of the hearing, however, came later.
The online political magazine The Hill reported this morning that the incoming administration plans to slash the federal budget across multiple departments. Of interest to the solar industry, of course, is the DOE. According to the leaked demo:
At the DOE, it would roll back funding for nuclear physics and advanced scientific computing research to 2008 levels, eliminate the Office of Electricity, eliminate the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and scrap the Office of Fossil Energy, which focuses on technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Surprisingly, no one appeared to have told Perry of the proposed cuts. When apprised of the reported cuts by Sen. Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii, Perry used the moment to offer a self-deprecating comment about his infamous “Oops” moment, when he forgot in 2011 that he wanted to eliminate the DOE – yes, the one he’s now interviewing to lead – during a Republican presidential debate.
“Senator, maybe [Trump’s transition team] will have the same experience I had and forget they said that,” Perry joked, provoking laughter from the senators and the gallery, including Hirono.
When Hirono pressed him on previous statements saying that he would take economic factors into account when dealing with Climate Change, he responded that he would take into account the economic effects of doing something and doing nothing.
While Perry declared he would not support a national renewable portfolio standard (Hirono has proposed such a standard in the past), he insisted he would support states’ efforts to promote renewable energy. He also pledged to Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner to keep the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s doors open and investigating future renewable-energy breakthroughs.
It should be noted that the American Wind Energy Association – wind’s version of the Solar Energy Industries Association – applauded Perry’s nomination, in part because under Perry’s leadership, Texas became one of the country’s leading wind-producing states.
Still, despite Perry’s reassurances, the echoes of the early-morning news story still resound in the ears of solar advocates, as the revelations about the sharp cuts currently planned for the department could damage solar’s efforts to expand its reach.