The U.S. Senate confirmed former Texas governor Rick Perry to head the Department of Energy on Thursday.
The Senate voted 62 to 37, making Perry the secretary of a department he promised to abolish in 2011. The department mainly oversees the country’s nuclear weapons, energy resources and environmental research. Perry has made decisions in the past to cut back regulation of natural gas and oil companies, including signing a state bill in 2003 that gives a tax break to natural gas companies.
Perry saw economic growth in energy during his tenure as governor, especially in wind power after Texas became the nation’s top producer of wind energy in 2006. Perry boosted wind energy usage after signing a bill in 2005 requiring the state to produce up to 5,880 megawatts by 2015.
During a Republican presidential debate in 2011, Perry said three departments, including the Department of Commerce and the Department of Education, were unnecessary. Perry forgot the third during the debate, but later identified it as the Department of Energy.
Perry said in January he regretted vowing to dissolve the department he now oversees.
“My past statements, made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy, do not reflect my current thinking,” Perry said. “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”
U.S. Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington, said Perry is unfit to head the department given his past pushback against environmental activists.
“Perry would join the ranks of other unqualified candidates chosen by this president to lead critically important agencies with very specific and complex functions,” Patty said Thursday before the Senate.
When British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in 2010, spilling millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf Coast, Perry said he did not want drilling to end because the spill’s cause was unknown at the time.
“I hope we don’t see a knee-jerk reaction across this country that says we’re going to shut down drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, because the cost to this country will be staggering,” Perry said in 2010.
Perry, however, signed a bill in 2011 requiring hydraulic fracturing companies to disclose which chemicals they used to extract natural gas and oil by drilling into the earth’s rock layers.
Doug Snyder, University Democrats’ communications director, said Perry is not qualified like past nuclear physicists appointed for the position.
“No one should be put in charge of an agency they have … heavily voiced the abolishment of,” Snyder said. “Rick Perry is not an educated or qualified person for the position. I think both Scott Pruitt and Perry have expressed their support for deregulation of environmental protections and a general support for fossil fuels, drilling and fracking and the building of pipeline.”
Government junior Offie Wiseman said Perry is qualified given he oversaw a state with heavy interests in oil and natural gas.
“Texas is pretty huge on wind turbine energy and things of that nature, so he may have some background knowledge on how to make it flourish as far as taking the wealth of knowledge that this state allows him to be able to do,” Wiseman said.