Senate confirms Trump pick Perry as energy secretary

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted to confirm President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Department of Energy, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has promised to renew America’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry is sworn in before testifying at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on his nomination to be Energy secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Perry’s rise to America’s top energy official came against opposition from Democrats worried about his ties to oil companies, his doubts about the science of climate change, and the fact that he once called for the department’s total elimination – a comment he has since said he regrets.

The Senate voted 62 to 37 in support of Perry.

Perry, 66, was governor of Texas from 2000 to 2015, making him the longest-serving governor of the oil-producing state in its history.

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

In his Senate confirmation hearing, Perry said much of his focus running the department would be in renewing the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal. Trump wants to ensure the arsenal is at “the top of the pack” and said the United States had fallen behind in its nuclear weapons capacity.

Democratic lawmakers expressed worry Perry would weaken the department’s functions and potentially target its army of scientists focused on climate and clean energy research. Perry sought to reassure them saying he would protect scientists and the growing renewable energy industry.

Democratic Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, a senior Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Perry had failed to persuade him he would push back against Trump administration plans to cut the department’s budget and focus on clean energy R&D.

“As Trump is threatening to slash DOE’s budget, Gov. Perry hasn’t convinced me he’s up to the task of creating those jobs and putting points on the board in the fight against climate change,” Wyden said.

Republican Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, chair of the energy committee, said Perry would be “a strong partner as we focus on everything from reducing rural energy costs to advancing the Alaska gasline project.”

Reporting By Valerie Volcovici and Timothy Gardner; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Andrew Hay