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Rick Perry Shifts from Energy Dept. Eliminator to Advocate

Energy Secretary-designate, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Energy Secretary-designate, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. // Carolyn Kaster/AP

Rick Perry, the presidential nominee who once called for eliminating the Energy Department, may find himself fighting to preserve the agency's cybersecurity and advanced research projects.

During his confirmation hearing Thursday, the Energy secretary nominee reversed many of the statements he made during his presidential campaign.

Senators asked if he still wants to eliminate the department: “I regret recommending its elimination,” Perry said.

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Senators asked whether he believes in climate change: “I believe the climate is changing,” Perry said. He called for addressing it in a “thoughtful way” that takes American jobs and energy affordability into consideration.

Senators also pressed Perry on The Hill’s report the Trump administration is backing a budget plan that would make major cuts to many agencies, including getting rid of DOE offices and programs dedicated to securing the power grid and researching emerging cybersecurity threats.

Those programs reside within the benign-sounding Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, which The Heritage Foundation’s Blueprint for Balance suggested cutting along with the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Office of Fossil Energy. The blueprint is the basis for Trump’s budget plan, according to The Hill.

The blueprint also calls for:

  • Reducing advanced scientific computing research budgets to fiscal 2008 levels.
  • Eliminating DOE energy innovation hubs.
  • Eliminating the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program.
  • Eliminating funding for small business innovation research and small business tech transfer.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D. Mich., asked Perry how he would deal with such cuts.

“I can’t answer whether that’s true or not,” Perry said. “What I can tell is I know from my perspective that moving America forward on the supercomputing side, for instance, exoscale is incredibly important for this country’s security. … The technologies that come out of DOE in many cases, they’re going to play a very, very important role. I will be an advocate for that.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, asked again, “My question is, do you support these cuts? Yes or no.”

“Senator, maybe they’ll have the same experience I had and forget that they said that,” Perry said to laugher.

“We’re counting on you to educate the incoming president,” Hirono said.

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