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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

WASHINGTON (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.

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.

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.

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.

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)

IMAGE: Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Energy, meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst