Rick Perry vs. Maria Cantwell on climate change, science and Hanford cleanup

By:  Joel Connelly
Source: The Seattle Pi

Ex-Texas Gov. Rick Perry was walking back his past statements, and dodging specific questions from Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., in a Thursday Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. Secretary of Energy.

The Secretary-designate repudiated his past call to abolish the Energy Department.  Perry backpedaled from climate change denier statements. But the old, malaprop-prone Perry did surface once at the hearing.

Sen Al Franken, D-Minn., mentioned a Perry visit to his Senate office, and quipped:  "Did you enjoy meeting me?"

"I hope you are as much fun on the dais as you were on your couch," Perry answered.

As laughter grew, Perry asked:  "May I rephrase that, sir?"

"Please, please. Oh my lord.  Oh my lord," said Franken.

Cantwell was all business -- the business of cleaning up Hanford and the business of encouraging clean energy technologies to counter climate change.

The Washington senator wanted to know about a questionnaire from Trump's transition team.  It asked who in the Department of Energy had worked in the field of climate change.  The Obama administration refused to answer.

"I didn't approve it," said Perry, noting that the questions came out before he was nominated.  "I don't need that information.  I don't need that information.  That is not how I manage."

"Do you intend to protect the science budget related to climate?" Cantwell asked Perry.

 "I am going to protect all of the science," Perry replied.

"You will protect the science budget?" pressed Cantwell, alluding to reports of deep cuts in the Energy Department budget by the incoming Trump administration.  Perry gave a nonspecific pledge to "protect the men and women at the Department of Energy."

Cantwell and Perry had a second go round.  Would the incoming Energy Secretary pledge to "fully fund" completion of the long-delayed cleanup of high-level nuclear waste at Hanford in Eastern Washington?

Perry talked around the question.  He lamented the "failure" to clean up nuclear waste around the country.  He told Cantwell he will "come to and walk that site with you."  He pledged in general terms to protect Hanford workers.

In a 2010 book, Perry described climate change as a "contrived, phony mess" being used by scientists to get money.  He walked that back -- somewhat.

"I believe the climate is changing," he told senators.  "I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by man-made activity."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, pointed to the 97 percent consensus among scientists that global warming is real and caused by man.  Perry simply repeated the line from his opening statement. 

"It is a global crisis that requires massive cuts in carbon," argued Sanders.  Perry parried the question, saying carbon and sulfur dioxide emissions in Texas were lowered during his watch.

Cantwell argued that the incoming Trump administration should do some walking back. She pointed to economic damage that climate change is doing in the Northwest, to agriculture and the shellfish industry, and to massive wildfires.

"So the choice before us, in my opinion Governor Perry, is pretty clear," said Cantwell.  "The Trump administration can either cling to the fossil fuel industry of the past or continue to lead on the innovations that are going to be the lead technologies in the world and put the U.S. in a clear leadership position."