At a Republican primary debate in 2011, Rick Perry forgot that he wanted to abolish the Department of Energy.
“It’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone — Commerce, Education, and the, um, what’s the third one there? Let’s see,” Perry infamously said, before settling on the Bureau of “Oops.”
At the time, Perry’s failure to remember his plan to gut the DOE seemed like the biggest mistake of his political career. But on Thursday, Trump’s nominee for secretary of Energy suggested that a bigger mistake was dreaming up that plan in the first place.
“My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” Perry said at the opening of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”
Those vital functions include maintaining and protecting America’s nuclear stockpile, discouraging nuclear proliferation by foreign governments, and overseeing the nation’s leading government laboratories.
Perry has approximately no relevant experience in managing these activities, leading some to suspect that both he and Donald Trump were unaware of the Energy Department’s core mission when they agreed on his nomination to lead it.
“If you asked him on that first day he said yes, he would have said, ‘I want to be an advocate for energy,’” Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist who advised Mr. Perry’s 2016 presidential bid, told the New York Times this week. “If you asked him now, he’d say, ‘I’m serious about the challenges facing the nuclear complex.’ It’s been a learning curve.”
However, Perry did tell Politico that he looked forward to learning more about “safeguarding America’s nuclear arsenal” on the day he was officially named as Trump’s nominee to head DOE.
Later in his opening remarks, Perry conceded that climate change is real and that “some of it” is caused by “manmade activity.”
“The question, is how we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth,” Perry explained.
The answer, per the former Texas governor, involves, among other things, waiting for some genius scientist to invent a way of burning coal that is clean, “friendly, and appropriate.”
Still, Perry has shown some interest in renewable energy. During his time as governor, Texas became the leading consumer of wind energy in the United States. And during his hearing, Perry reiterated his interest in an “all of the above” energy strategy.
He may want to bring up that commitment to his boss: On the morning of Perry’s hearing, the Hill reported that Trump’s transition team is preparing to eliminate the Energy Department programs dedicated to promoting energy efficiency, renewable energy, and technologies that reduce carbon emissions.