A man who once vowed to abolish the Energy Department has now been tasked with leading it. The Senate confirmed former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as energy secretary on Thursday in a 62-37 vote. Perry's confirmation as energy secretary comes roughly five years after he said he'd eliminate the Energy Department, which oversees the nation's stockpile of nuclear weapons, as he wrongly believed it was focused largely on developing national energy resources.
Although Perry's confirmation did not draw the same levels of controversy some of President Donald Trump's other Cabinet picks have, the former governor and two-time presidential candidate's nomination was not without debate. Supporters have hailed the energy production boom Texas saw during Perry's 15 years as governor as proof he could oversee the expansion of a variety of energy interests. Critics, meanwhile, questioned his ties to the oil industry, his hesitant acknowledgement of climate change, and his lack of familiarity with the department's role in managing the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile.
Perry had vowed to abolish the Energy Department — whose name he awkwardly forgot during a presidential debate — along with two other agencies during his failed 2012 presidential campaign. In January, Perry told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources his views on the agency had changed.
"My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking," he said. "In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination."
Along with maintaining the nation's nuclear arsenal, the head of the Energy Department is also tasked with environmental cleanup of the national nuclear weapons complex, running the 17 national scientific laboratories, directing appliance standards, and issuing grants for scientific research and development in energy technologies.
In his confirmation hearings, Perry also rolled back his position on climate change. Perry, who Reuters reported once said the science behind climate change was a "contrived, phony mess," told the Senate he now "believed the climate is changing." "I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by man-made activity," Perry said, adding he felt it was important to address the issue "in a thoughtful way that doesn't compromise economic growth, the affordability of energy, or American jobs."
A former critic of President Trump, Perry has also promised to be a fierce advocate for the Energy Department, an agency whose budget the Trump administration is reportedly looking at slashing dramatically. Perry will replace nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz, who was appointed secretary of energy by President Barack Obama in 2013.