Energy Secretary Rick Perry this morning said carbon dioxide is not the primary driver of climate change, stirring the global warming debate ahead of his appearance on Capitol Hill this week.
On CNBC's "Squawk Box," Perry was asked if he believes CO2 is the main factor driving fluctuating Earth and climate temperatures. He said "no," adding that he thinks "most likely" the ocean waters and the environment are the main drivers.
"It shouldn't be a debate about is the climate change changing, is man having an effect on it. Yeah, we are," Perry said. "The question should be ... just how much and what are the policy changes that we need to make to affect that."
He went on to challenge critics of skeptics. It's quite "all right" to be a skeptic about some of these issues, if one is going to be a "wise, intellectually engaged person," the former Texas governor said.
This idea that science is just absolutely settled, and if you don't believe it's settled, then you're ... somehow or another a Neanderthal. That is so inappropriate, from my perspective.
"This idea that science is just absolutely settled, and if you don't believe it's settled, then you're ... somehow or another a Neanderthal. That is so inappropriate, from my perspective," he said.
Perry's comments this morning are his most detailed on the subject since becoming Energy secretary, and come a week after the Department of Energy (DOE) confirmed it was closing its international climate office (E&E News PM, June 15). DOE said it was "looking for ways to consolidate the many duplicative programs that currently exist."
This week, Perry is scheduled to appear before several congressional committees to defend the agency's $28 billion budget request, which slashes many clean-energy programs. He's expected to face tough questions about how Trump's overall priorities — such as support for the national labs — fit with the budget request and overall climate policy.
DOE's Office of Science, which is slated for a 17 percent cut, funds climate research at the national labs, for example. The administration wants to cut research and development funding at the Office of Fossil Energy by more than half. A chief focus of the office is supporting carbon capture and sequestration technology, which Perry has supported publicly.
Perry has expressed doubts about the CO2 link to climate change before. As a presidential candidate in 2015, he said "the science is not settled on this."
During his confirmation hearing in January, he said he believed the climate was changing, but added that "some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by man-made activity."
More than 97 percent of climate scientists attribute rising temperatures to human activity, according to NASA.
Perry's views on climate sometimes have been contradictory. He initially said he supported staying in the Paris climate agreement, before reversing course two months later (Climatewire, June 13).
On CNBC, the secretary pivoted from the climate question to say innovation would help affect the environment in a positive way. He reiterated the work of the national labs in that regard and partnerships between the federal government and private sector.
Separately, Democratic lawmakers are slamming plans to shutter the climate office. In a letter Friday, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) wrote to Perry that the office helped American businesses by opening up overseas markets for things like light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.
"When you were sworn in as secretary of Energy, you expressed your support for an energy policy that created jobs and grew our economy, but in eliminating OICT [the Office of International Climate and Technology] you have taken an action that is at odds with this goal," Markey wrote.
Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2017. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at www.eenews.net