THE PAST three energy secretaries have been scientists. If President-elect Donald Trump gets his wish, they will be succeeded by a man who has repeatedly attacked science, former Texas governor Rick Perry .
Mr. Perry has a long record on climate change, railing about “doctored data” and “so-called science.” “I t’s all one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight,” he declared. “Al Gore is a prophet all right, a false prophet of a secular carbon cult.” These were not one-off, casual comments. They were in his 2010 book, “Fed Up!” During his 2012 presidential run, Mr. Perry compared his irresponsible public climate doubting to Galileo’s fact-based stand against the Catholic Church’s ascientific doctrine on the solar system. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Perry’s Texas was a chief foe of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Some of Mr. Perry’s defenders — and even some of his critics — suggest there is more beneath the demagoguery. The former governor presided over a large increase in wind electricity generation in Texas, in part because of state investments. Texas became the leading wind-power state in the country. As the leader of a major oil and gas state, Mr. Perry also has a deep knowledge of the incumbent fossil-fuel industries the country will rely on for some time.
Yet the Energy Department, like the EPA, is a federal agency charged to work on the basis of science and fact, not politics or ideology. As secretary, Mr. Perry would preside over not only a variety of energy research and development initiatives, but also the nation’s nuclear waste and nuclear arms stockpile. This is not a place for someone who cavalierly dismisses expert warnings that releasing heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, steadily changing its chemistry, will warm the planet.
Mr. Perry’s past statements on climate change are especially alarming in light of news that Trump transition officials asked the Energy Department to turn over names of civil servants who worked on climate initiatives during the Obama administration. This carried a chilling intimation of purges to come. The Energy Department refused the transition team’s request. But that principled stand cannot stop a determined Trump administration from assembling its own list once it takes charge.
As with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), Mr. Trump’s choice to head the EPA, and Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), the pick for interior secretary, senators must press Mr. Perry to explain his past comments on climate science. Anyone is entitled to disagree with the Obama administration’s approach to combating climate change; no one who denies the risk of warming altogether is fit to lead the Energy Department. While they are at it, senators should ask Mr. Perry if he would preside over a political housecleaning at the heretofore fact-based agency he has been tapped to lead. There is only one acceptable answer to that question, too.
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