The Department of Energy will continue to advance the development of carbon capture and storage technology with Rick Perry at the helm, the energy secretary nominee said Thursday during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “I am certain, I feel positive that some scientist, some incredibly capable man or woman, either at the DOE or in one of our universities, laboratories, has technology to be able to use coal in a way that is friendly,” Perry told lawmakers.
The future energy boss touted his support for energy development during his 14 years as Texas governor, noting that besides the state’s famous love for oil, it has significant wind energy generation and the nation’s first (and so far, only) operating commercial-scale post-combustion CCS project on a coal-fired power plant. This diverse energy mix was developed “using incentives to move new technology, clean technology such as clean coal and carbon capture and underground storage,” Perry said.
The Petra Nova project, located outside of Houston, was completed earlier this month. The CCS facility is intended to capture approximately 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide annually from an approximately 240-megawatt (MW) slipstream of flue gas from Unit 8 of the W.A. Parish coal-fired power plant. This equates to a 90 percent capture rate.
The captured CO2 is transported roughly 80 miles via pipeline to the West Ranch oil field, which is now partly owned by NRG. In total, the CO2 is expected to enable the procurement of approximately 60 million barrels of oil via enhanced recovery.
Throughout his three-hour confirmation hearing, Perry pledged to visit CCS projects around the nation. He told Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) he would visit the state’s Energy & Environmental Research Center, which performs CCS research.
Perry also promised to head to Louisiana to visit the Lake Charles Methanol project, the first CCS site to receive a commitment under DOE’s loan guarantee for advanced fossil energy projects. Perry acknowledged that he wasn’t familiar with the project. “I don’t know the deep particulars on this,” he said. “On the surface, it appears to make sense.”
The project would be the nation’s first petroleum coke-to-methanol facility, as well as the world’s largest industrial manufacturing carbon capture facility. CO2 captured from the Lake Charles plant will be used in enhanced oil recovery in Texas. The plant is expected to cost $3.8 billion and will be managed by Lake Charles Methanol LLC. The company hopes to break ground on the project in 2017 and anticipates completing construction in three to four years.
President Donald Trump announced Perry’s nomination in mid-December, a pick that met immediate criticism from the left. The former Texas governor’s 2012 Republican presidential bid was derailed in part due to a televised debate gaffe in which he stated he would eliminate three federal agencies. He went on the name the Departments of Commerce and Education before faltering, forgetting the third agency. “The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops,” he said, adding later in the debate: “By the way, that was the Department of Energy I was reaching for a while ago.”
Unsurprisingly, Perry has changed his tune on the department since being nominated to lead it by Trump, who Perry once called “a cancer on conservatism.” Meeting his 2012 gaffe head-on, Perry said in his opening statement at the hearing: “My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking. In fact after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy I regret recommending its elimination.”
Perry also tackled his former denial of climate change in his opening statement, though that didn’t stop Democrats on the panel from grilling him the issue throughout the hearing. “I believe the climate is changing, I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is caused by man-made activity. The question is how we will address it in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth, affect the affordability of energy, or American jobs,” Perry said.
Based on repeated statements from Trump throughout the years, it can be assumed the president does not share Perry’s views on climate change. The president has said climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese and that it is “bullshit.”
It seems that climate change is not the only topic on which Perry and Trump might not agree. According to media reports Thursday, the Trump administration might be taking guidance from the conservative Heritage Foundation for massive cuts at the Department of Energy and other federal agencies, including eliminating the DOE Office of Fossil Energy, which oversees the department’s CCS research. “Square this for me: How do you see your role? You’re coming into a new position where we’re talking about massive cuts in the kinds of things that you have advocated for and used, supported in your role as governor, that are critical to the future of the economy and lowering emissions,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said during the hearing.
Perry stated that to his knowledge the report that the administration would be scrapping offices was not necessarily correct. “There are always a lot of statements. Sometimes, just because it’s on the Internet, it’s not true,” Perry said. “I can’t answer whether that’s true or not.”
The incoming secretary also had to answer Thursday for actions the Trump transition team took before he came on-board. About a week before Perry’s nomination, a transition team survey sent to DOE was leaked to the press. The survey requested that the department provide “a list of Department employees or contractors who attended any of the Conference of the Parties (under the UNFCCC) in the last five years.”
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the treaty under which the international Paris Agreement on climate change was adopted in December 2015. During his campaign, Trump vowed to “cancel” the agreement. Since being elected, however, he’s softened his language on the accord, saying he is “studying it” and has an “open mind.”
The survey also focused on the social cost of carbon, a measure used to determine climate costs and benefits to government actions. The transition team asked for “a list of all Department of Energy employees or contractors who have attended any lnteragency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon meetings,” along with “a list of when those meetings were and any materials distributed at those meetings, emails associated with those meetings, or materials created by Department employees or contractors in anticipation of or as a result of those meetings.”
The DOE declined to provide the requested list and the Trump team later distanced itself from the questionnaire, saying it was not authorized.
Asked about the matter by committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Perry said he would not have been interested in the information requested even if it had been provided. “I didn’t approve it, I don’t approve of it, I don’t need that information, I don’t want that information,” he said. “I’m going to protect all of the science, whether it’s to the climate or to the other aspects of what we’re going to be doing.”
The committee did not vote Thursday on Perry’s nomination, but he is expected to be approved by both the panel and full Senate.