Rick Perry, a former governor of one of the most energy-rich states in the nation, goes before a panel of senators Thursday who will question his close ties to the oil and gas industry, his position on nuclear weapons and waste, and his onetime desire to eliminate the Department of Energy.
Perry, a onetime presidential candidate from Texas and competitor on the TV show “Dancing With the Stars,” is expected to sail through the confirmation process, as Democrats are focusing their opposition efforts on Cabinet nominees such as Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, chosen for attorney general, and billionaire Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for secretary of education.
“I think Gov. Perry is going to make a terrific energy secretary,” Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said to McClatchy.
But Sens. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, and Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, known for their tough and often sarcastic lines of questioning, sit on the committee that will grill Perry.
The secretary of energy oversees the country’s nuclear weapons program, protecting nuclear waste, many environmental programs and science research. Perry famously forgot to name the department during a 2011 Republican primary debate that contributed to his failed campaign.
Perry is well-connected in the oil and gas industry and will likely face questioning over his willingness to continue scientific research and ensure that current staffers in the Energy Department would not face a “witch hunt” over their work on climate change from the Trump administration.
The longtime former governor would have responsibility over stowing the nation’s nuclear waste if confirmed and could face questioning over his plans for such waste sites in Washington state, Nevada and West Texas.
Sanders faced questions during his presidential campaign over his support for a proposal in the 1990s to dump nuclear waste in a West Texas town.
Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, has an interest in Perry’s confirmation as well, and she likely will probe Perry on his plans for the massive Hanford Site, a decommissioned nuclear site in her home state that is half the size of Rhode Island and the scene of a major environmental cleanup effort.
The long-planned final resting place for nuclear waste was at one time Yucca Mountain, Nevada, but in 2011 an effort led by then-Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., halted the project.
Now the Department of Energy has no long-term radioactive-waste storage facility, and Perry will be tasked with navigating the prickly not-in-my-backyard politics that tends to transcend party lines when a massive and potentially environmentally altering project is proposed.
Perry is also known for cutting energy regulations, which allowed fossil fuel companies – and renewables – to flourish in Texas during his tenure.
“I think he’s going to be a tremendous champion for energy,” Cruz said. Not just “for the oil and gas industry, which is a huge backbone of the Texas economy, but for every form of energy writ large: oil, gas, coal, wind, solar, nuclear, all of them should prosper without Washington getting in the way.”
Cruz’s Texas colleague, Sen. John Cornyn, is expected to introduce Perry along with Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who got to know Perry while they were both governors.
“Every confirmation hearing entails vigorous questioning, and I don’t expect this one to be any different,” Cruz said. “But at the end of the day I’m confident Gov. Perry will be confirmed and in all likelihood confirmed by a wide margin.”