“My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” Rick Perry plans to say. | Getty

Rick Perry will repudiate his call to eliminate the Energy Department President-elect Donald Trump has tapped him to run when he appears at his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday morning.

The former Texas governor infamously forgot DOE’s name when he called for its elimination in a 2011 Republican presidential primary debate, a position he disavows in prepared remarks released ahead of the hearing.

“My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” Perry plans to say. “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”

Perry also intends to walk back from his many previous comments criticizing the validity of climate change science. But he leaves open the question of what to do about it and the degree to which humans are fueling global warming, echoing recent statements from Trump’s selections to run the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency.
“I believe the climate is changing. I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by manmade activity,” his remarks say. “The question is how do we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth, the affordability of energy, or American jobs.”

Perry’s confirmation hearing on Thursday could offer the best insight yet about the Trump administration plans for the Energy Department’s mission to foster basic science and safeguard the nation’s nuclear weapons complex given the president-elect’s narrow focus on boosting production of oil, natural gas and coal.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whose Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will review Perry’s nomination to lead DOE under Trump, has said she plans to ask about nuclear energy, liquefied natural gas exports, and the aging Strategic Petroleum Reserve. All of those are issues a long-running Texas governor should be familiar with.

Meanwhile, the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, intends to pepper Perry with questions about cybersecurity, especially after DOE released its second Quadrennial Energy Review, which focused heavily on cyber threats to the electric grid, earlier this month.

After two energy secretaries who were unequivocal about the political and economic threats of climate change, Democrats will want to know how vocal a climate skeptic Perry still is.

And committee members on both sides of the aisle — especially the eight with national labs back home — will ask whether Perry stands by his 2011 statements that the Energy Department should be dismantled.

Republicans only have a one-vote advantage over Democrats on the Senate energy committee, but no GOP members are likely to step out of line. And West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, who is facing a tough re-election in 2018, will be one of two senators who introduce Perry at the hearing, giving him a decent cushion for victory.

The Energy Department’s historically low political profile and small regulatory footprint compared to agencies like EPA, has set up a confirmation hearing that is Perry’s to lose.

Friends and foes alike say that Perry knows how and when to roll out the charm. They also say that he’s a quick study when he needs to be. So, does Rick Perry show up as a folksy Westerner and simply try to clear the low bar many Democrats have set for him? Or, knowing that his three immediate predecessors came to DOE with doctorates in science or engineering, does he work to counteract the unflattering narratives about his intellect and present himself as a well-read policy wonk?

Perry isn’t likely to name-drop lab directors or speak to specific bureaucratic problems at DOE the way outgoing Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was able to do in his own 2013 nomination hearing. Expect some self-deprecating humor along with some pointed efforts to play up the managerial skills he acquired during his 14-year run as governor of the nation’s second-most populous state.

David Garman, an energy undersecretary in the George W. Bush DOE who called Trump “mercurial and illogical,” nevertheless argued that the agency “almost above all is a management challenge,” that may work to Perry’s strength. “I would take a good manager over a trained scientist if I couldn’t find someone who offered both. Let’s hope Gov. Perry has the capacity to bring focused and consistent management to a complex, sprawling organization.”

On climate change, Perry represents a dramatic course change from Moniz and Steven Chu, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who ran DOE in Obama’s first term.

Environmentalists will be looking to climate hawks on the energy committee like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) to put Perry on the defensive.

In the past six years, Perry has alleged that climate researchers were up to no good, asserting that “a substantial number of scientists … have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.” While he has acknowledged that the climate has been changing “ever since the earth was formed,” he has questioned how much of a role humans play — matching a view popular with other Trump picks.

Attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions gave a similar answer during his own confirmation hearing last week in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I don’t deny that we have global warming,” Sessions said in response to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). “It is the question of how much is happening and what the reaction would be to it.” Trump’s picks to lead EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services, Oklahoma AG Scott Pruitt and Rep. Tom Price, gave simliar lines of argument during their confirmation hearings Wednesday.

“I took real umbrage over his statement during the campaign that we should abolish the Department of Energy,” said energy panel member Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), who has two DOE weapons labs in his state, “and it was not evident to me that he really understood the department and what a critical role it plays in our national security. So, for me, the bar for him to show that he is the right guy to run the agency that stewards our nuclear deterrent is a high bar.”

Spencer Abraham survived a similarly fraught situation 16 years ago when he was nominated by President George W. Bush to lead DOE, despite having co-sponsored legislation to disband the agency, but Perry’s answer will still catch everyone’s attention.

The confirmation hearing will also give freshman Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Harry Reid’s handpicked successor, a chance to press Perry on one of the biggest issues in her home state: the future of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

Trump hasn’t taken a clear stance on Yucca Mountain — when he campaigned in Nevada last fall, he seemed unaware of the project — but this is expected to be a big year for the long-stalled nuclear waste project after years of opposition from the Obama administration.

Democrats that may potentially support Yucca aren’t likely to talk about it during Perry’s hearing but Republicans will want to hear a verbal commitment to reinstating the nuclear waste office at DOE and finishing the project’s licensing process. That leaves Cortez Masto as one of the few counterweights on the issue. Her arrival in the Senate has positioned her to be politically run over by Yucca boosters much the same way Reid was overwhelmed 30 years ago when he first arrived in the Senate.