Energy Secretary Rick Perry Thursday stood by his skepticism of climate change as being made by human activity, telling a Senate committee hearing reviewing his agency’s budget that “the science isn’t settled.”
Perry touched off a furor earlier in the week in a CNBC interview by blaming “the ocean waters and this environment that we live in” for the earth’s warming.
That prompted the American Meteorological Society, a Boston-based professional organization, to write a letter to Perry that it released Wednesday. The letter effectively chided the former Texas governor for not understanding that carbon dioxide — driven by fossil-fuel emissions and deforestation — and other greenhouse gases caused by human activity were “the primary cause” of climate change.
“This is a conclusion based on the comprehensive assessment of scientific evidence,” wrote Keith L. Seitter, the meteorological society’s executive director. “It is based on multiple independent lines of evidence that have been affirmed by thousands of independent scientists and numerous scientific institutions around the world. We are not familiar with any scientific institution with relevant subject matter expertise that has reached a different conclusion.”
Perry had a spirited exchange Thursday at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who asked the energy chief if he thought carbon dioxide was the primary driver of climate change.
“I don’t,” Perry said. “I think there are some other naturally occurring events, the warming and the cooling of our ocean water and other activities that occur.”
Referring to his earlier CNBC comments, he said: “I also said in the next breath that man’s impact has some impact on the climate. The question is ‘what’s going to be the economic impact for this country?’” Perry appeared to challenge Franken, adding: “Don’t you think it’s OK to have this conversation about the science of climate change” by letting scientists debate it with “the politicians out of the room?”
“What’s wrong with being a skeptic about something that’s going to have a massive impact on the American economy?” Perry said.
Franken rejoined that scientists had already studied climate change extensively.
“That’s exactly how science works,” Franken said, adding that every peer reviewed climate study had found that global warming was caused primarily by humans. The Minnesota senator said the oceans were warming from absorbing heat, leading to rising sea levels, as well as the melting of the ice caps.
Told that one expert hired by the Koch Brothers — billionaire founders of a campaign to refute climate change — had had a change of heart and now attributed 100 percent of the cause on humans, Perry told Franken: “I don’t believe that. One hundred percent? I don’t buy it.”
In his 2010 book, “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington,” Perry denounced global warming claims by climate scientists as a “contrived, phony mess.” But he found a more conciliatory tone at his January confirmation hearings, during which he maintained that he thought global warming was natural but acknowledged that “some of it is also caused by man-made activity.”
However, President Trump has since withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris climate accord — an international agreement to control emissions — and Perry has had to support the U.S. position to foreign officials. Perry met with other energy ministers June 8 in Beijing at the Clean Energy Ministerial meeting.
This week, Perry was on Capitol Hill for three congressional hearings to defend his department’s budget, which Trump proposes to cut 6 percent to $28 billion. Perry drew fire for advocating for $120 million in the budget to reopen the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal site in Nevada and for pushing $900 million in proposed cuts in the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which supports research programs at hundreds of universities and 10 of 17 national laboratories.
Although Perry said that he had not written the budget — he was not confirmed until March 2 — he said he would work with the lawmakers about their concerns.
In answer, Franken quipped: “You’re like the defense counsel for someone charged with murder: ‘I know he’s guilty but I’m going to give him a robust defense.’”