This is a special view on the confirmation hearings provided by POPVOX interns from Brown University. We hope you enjoy and learn from their fresh perspective and front-row seat on Capitol Hill.
On Thursday, January 19, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a confirmation hearing for President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry.
Back up…what’s a confirmation hearing?
One of the Senate’s Constitutional duties is to provide advice and consent for the president’s appointment of federal officers. As representatives of the people, the Senate’s key role in confirming or rejecting the president-elect’s candidates serves as an important check on executive power. In each hearing, the members of a relevant Senate committee have the opportunity to question the nominee, hear the nominee’s case for serving the president, and listen to testimonies about the candidate.
Okay, got that. So what’s Secretary of Energy?
The Secretary of Energy oversees the Department of Energy, which is concerned with the production of energy, national laboratories, nuclear materials and waste, and energy conservation. The Secretary of Energy serves as a member of the president’s cabinet.
Who is Rick Perry?
James Richard “Rick” Perry was born in 1950 in Paint Creek, Texas. He is a graduate from Texas A&M University, College Station, and served in the U.S. Air Force. He was the Governor of Texas from 2000-2015, becoming the longest-serving governor in Texas history. He ran for president twice, in 2012 and 2016. While governor, Texas was a major producer of oil and gas, as well as wind power. President-elect Trump’s transition team notably sought the names of the employees at the DOE that were involved with President Obama’s climate action plan, and Perry himself has questioned the existence of climate change.
How does the hearing work?
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is in charge of the Secretary of Energy confirmation hearing. The committee’s jurisdiction includes energy policy, nuclear waste policy, emergency preparedness, and the privatization of federal assets. It is chaired by Sen. Lisa Murkowski [R, AK] and its Ranking Member is Sen. Maria Cantwell [D, WA]. Introductions were provided by Sen. John Cornyn [R, TX] and Sen. Joe Manchin [D, WV]. Here’s how it all goes down.
So what did they talk about?
Managing the Department of Energy
Former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz is a renowned nuclear physicist. Perry, who has no scientific experience, billed himself as an apt manager for the department instead of an expert in the field like his predecessor. Perry focused on his experience overseeing the government of Texas and the work he did to diversify and expand its energy sources. In describing his management style for the DOE, Perry emphasized his focus on Federalism and shifting power of energy policy to the states.
An “all of the above” energy policy
Perry’s “all of the above” energy policy for the DOE is a notable departure from the Obama Administration’s focus on renewable energy. Perry called for the DOE and states to develop energy of all kinds — from fossil fuel-based energy like coal to renewable energy like wind power. Several senators, including Sen. Cornyn and Sen. Steve Daines [R, MT], underscored the importance of cheaper energy sources such as natural gas and coal. Sen. Daines and others also stressed the need to find a balance between fossil fuels and renewable energy, the economy and the environment.
Another aspect of the “all of the above” energy policy discussed in the hearing was nuclear energy. Many senators, including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto [D, NV], stressed the need for the DOE to address the issue of nuclear waste. Sen. Rob Portman [R, OH] went a step further, saying that cleanup of nuclear waste is a national security issue. Other senators spoke about the need for domestic uranium enrichment and the need for a careful consideration of nuclear policy.
Perry stressed the need for collaboration with private sector firms to accomplish America’s energy goals and reaffirmed that he had no plans to deviate from his fiscal conservative ideology. However, after questioning from Sen. Tammy Duckworth [D, IL], he noted that there is a role for the DOE in investing in renewable energy technologies.
A recurring theme in many Trump cabinet nominee hearings has been climate change. President-elect Trump does not believe that there is enough conclusive evidence to prove its existence, but many of his nominees have spoken to the contrary.
Perry was questioned on this topic from many Democratic senators, including Ranking Member Cantwell. Perry, who once called climate change a “contrived, phony mess” said in the hearing that he now believes that it is partially due to natural causes and partially due to human activity, but did not acknowledge that it is a crisis, despite persistent questioning from Sen. Bernie Sanders [I, VT]. After questioning from Sen. Mazie Hirono [D, HI], Perry acknowledged the economic impact of not addressing climate change. However, he also agreed with Republican senators such as Sen. Manchin that there needs to be a balance between decisions made for the good of the economy and the good of the environment.
The Trump Administration’s proposed budget cuts to the Department of Energy were discussed. Perry, in an attempt to make a joke about his past debate gaffe during which he forgot the name of the DOE said that “maybe they’ll just forget about it”.
Perry’s opinions towards the DOE have evolved from that debate, when he called for the abolishment of the agency. In response to Sen. Cantwell’s questioning about his past statements, he responded that they no longer reflect his current thinking and that he regrets recommending its elimination. He later went on to praise the agency, and called the national labs that it operates “crown jewels” of the country.
Opening remarks from Chair Sen. Lisa Murkowski [R, AK]
Opening remarks from Ranking Member Sen. Maria Cantwell [D, WA]