Trump Nominees Distance Themselves From His Climate Rhetoric
Rick Perry, questioned by senators Thursday vetting him as a potential energy secretary, was the fourth of Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees to repudiate some of the president-elect’s most controversial statements on climate change and environmental protection during their confirmation hearings.
Trump, in 2012 on Twitter, famously called climate change a “hoax” created by the Chinese, an assertion he denied when asked about it last year during a presidential debate with Hillary Clinton.
Perry sounded a different note during his hearing on Thursday. In his opening statement before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the former Texas governor said, “I believe the climate is changing … some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by man-made activity.”
Perry’s comment follows in line with those from Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke, and EPA Administrator nominee Scott Pruitt, all of whom either directly or indirectly asserted that climate change is man-made and that U.S. government agencies have a responsibility to respond to the threat through policy.
Trump has not expressed any anger at his nominees for taking stances at odds with his own. Last week he tweeted: “All of my Cabinet nominee are looking good and doing a great job. I want them to be themselves and express their own thoughts, not mine!”
Democrats have wanted answers from the incoming president’s appointees about their positions on global warming, the Paris Agreement and operations of the EPA, which at one point Trump called “a disgrace.”
At his hearing on Wednesday, Pruitt was asked by more than one Democratic senator about his view of the agency’s role in this regard. When questioned by Ed Markey of Massachusetts whether he believes climate change is a hoax, Pruitt answered no but argued the topic should be up for “continuing debate and dialogue.”
For Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Pruitt’s hearing went as well as could be expected. He defended his record in Oklahoma as one of the country’s most aggressive litigators against the EPA. Pruitt is either the chief litigant or a party to litigation against the agency in 25 separate cases and he refused to unilaterally recuse himself from decisions made about those cases if he is confirmed.
For Democrats on the panel, Pruitt’s nomination was a disappointing signal that Trump plans to roll back much of the Obama administration’s actions regarding climate and the environment. President Obama, in the last two month of his term, advanced several environmental regulations, designated or extended seven national monuments in the West and banned oil drilling indefinitely off the coast of Alaska and the U.S.’s southern Atlantic coast.
Pruitt’s lawyerly approach to hostile questioning during the nearly seven hours of testimony seemed to mitigate some of the venom voiced by opponents, but was unlikely to build any support among Democrats protective of the EPA’s authority to regulate much of the U.S. economy.
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, recounted the Pruitt-led lawsuits against the EPA’s Air Mercury Rule, Clean Power Plan and a rule expanding federal regulation of navigable waters. Carper then noted that “too much of what I’ve seen of his record on the environment and his views about the role of the EPA are troubling and, in some cases, deeply troubling.”
Perry's 3½-hour hearing was one of the shortest and least contentious of the energy- and environment-related nominations, in part because he apologized at the outset for his statements during his 2012 presidential campaign that he would abolish the department he’s now tapped to lead.
“In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination,” Perry said.
Last week, Secretary of State nominee Tillerson told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he disagreed with Trump’s stated desire to “rip up” the Paris climate accord, arguing that the agreement was necessary to better leverage U.S. interests abroad.