Rick Perry, Trump's pick for secretary of energy, regrets calling for department's elimination



WASHINGTON, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Rick Perry, President-elect Donald Trump's pick to run the Energy Department, said during his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday that he regrets having called for the department's elimination during his failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

"After being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination," the former Texas governor said in his opening remarks to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

SEE ALSO: Trump team formally announces Sonny Perdue as pick for secretary of agriculture

Perry, 66, was governor of Texas from 2000 to 2015, making him the longest-serving governor of the oil-producing state in its history. He is seen by Trump as a person who can usher in energy jobs.

As energy secretary, he would also lead a vast scientific research operation credited with helping trigger a U.S. drilling boom and advancements in energy efficiency, and would oversee America's nuclear arsenal.

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RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: Able Seaman Smith and Able Seaman Davies in their Bunkspace on HMS Vigilant, submarine on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: Royal Navy security personnel stand guard on HMS Vigilant at Her Majesty's Naval Base, Clyde on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: Lieutenant Alexandra Olsson in the control room on HMS Vigilant, submarine on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: Royal Navy personnel respond to a fire in a control room of a Vanguard Class ship simulator at Her Majesty's Naval Base, Clyde on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: Lieutenant Benson and WOZ Firth in the missile compartments on HMS Vigilant, submarine on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: WOZ Johnston in the weapons room on HMS Vigilant, submarine on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: WOZ Gray makes his way through a hatch on HMS Vigilant, submarine on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: Surgeon Lieutenant Tweed poses in the sickbay on HMS Vigilant, submarine on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: Chef Sewell prepares a curry in the Galley on HMS Vigilant, submarine on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: Junior rates relax in the mess playing a playstation on HMS Vigilant, submarineon January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: Junior rates relax in the mess playing Vickers on HMS Vigilant, submarine on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
RHU, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 20: STD Skinner poses in the Wardroom on HMS Vigilant, submarine on January 20, 2016 in Rhu, Scotland. HMS Vigilant is one of the UK's fleet of four Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carrying the Trident nuclear missile system. A decision on when to hold a key Westminster vote on renewing Trident submarine class is yet to be decided senior Whitehall sources have admitted. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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Perry's proposal to get rid of the Energy Department caused what has become known as his "oops" moment during a November 2011 Republican presidential candidate debate when he could not remember all of the three Cabinet-level departments he wanted to eliminate.

After mentioning the departments of Commerce and Education, he said, "I can't. The third one, I can't. Sorry. Oops." A few minutes later in the debate Perry said with a laugh, "By the way that was the Department of Energy I was reaching for a while ago."

During Thursday's hearing, Perry is expected to face questioning by senators on how he would create jobs in the industry and bolster U.S. energy security. Trump, who takes office at noon on Friday, has championed increased production of oil, gas and coal.

Perry is also likely to face questions about his stance on climate change. Like several other Trump Cabinet appointees, Perry is a self-professed climate skeptic. Democrats are concerned about the future of climate science research at the department's lab network that sprawls across the country.

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"I believe the climate is changing. I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by man-made activity. The question is how do we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn't compromise economic growth, the affordability of energy, or American jobs," he said.

A questionnaire the Trump transition team sent to the department in December demanded names and publications of employees who had worked on climate issues. After an uproar by critics who said it amounted to a witch hunt, the team disavowed the survey.

"I didn't approve it. I don't approve of it. I don't need that information. I don't want that information,"Perry said in response to a question about the questionnaire.

Department leadership under Perry would represent a pivot from being run by learned scientists to a person who is known for close ties to energy interests.

Current Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is a nuclear physicist who led technical negotiations in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, while the previous head, Steven Chu, is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist with a background in lab work and management.

Perry resigned from the board of directors of Energy Transfer Partners LP, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline opposed by Native Americans and environmentalists. He has said that, if confirmed, he will divest his interests in two pipeline companies. (Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Leslie Adler and Alistair Bell)


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Trump's official picks for Cabinet and administration positions
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Trump's official picks for Cabinet and administration positions

Counselor to the President: Kellyanne Conway

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Veterans Affairs Secretary: David Shulkin

(Photo credit DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)

Transportation secretary: Elaine Chao

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Energy secretary: Rick Perry

(Photo credit KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson

 REUTERS/Daniel Kramer

Secretary of Defense: Retired Marine General James Mattis

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Chief of staff: Reince Priebus

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Chief strategist: Steve Bannon

(EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Attorney General: Senator Jeff Sessions

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Director of the CIA: Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Deputy national security adviser: K.T. McFarland

(Photo by Michael Schwartz/Getty Images)

White House counsel: Donald McGahn

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Ambassador to the United Nations: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley

(Photo by Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Education secretary: Betsy DeVos

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Commerce secretary: Wilbur Ross

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Homeland security secretary: General John Kelly

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Housing and urban development secretary: Ben Carson

(Photo credit NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Administrator of Environmental Protection Agency: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Health and human services secretary: Tom Price

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Department of Homeland Security: Retired General John Kelly

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Secretary of agriculture: Sonny Perdue

(BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
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