Rick Perry

From oil barons to candidates that have vowed to abolish their departments, President Donald Trump’s picks for his new cabinet have been nothing short of controversial, and look to be a backwards step for climate action. But with the Senate set to engage in debate over who will take up the plum positions, it seems some of their hardline approaches have now moderated, according to energy and commodity information service S&P Global Platts.

For energy secretary, Trump has chosen former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who unsuccessfully challenged for the Presidential nominee. Perry, who has questioned climate science and even called for the elimination of the energy department, seemed to have changed his tune during his confirmation hearing on Thursday, however.

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

He said he wanted to promote American energy “in all forms” and promised to protect the research budgets for climate science, renewable energy, fossil fuels and other programs.

Perry also said he supported increasing the capacity for US LNG exports as long as other federal agencies did not constrain domestic supply, S&P Global Platts said.

He agreed that the climate was changing, though played an increasingly common line from cabinet candidates regarding how responsible humans were.

“I believe the climate is changing,” Perry said. “I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by man-made activity. 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.”

This echoed the sentiments of Trump’s pick for the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

“Science tells us that the climate is changing, and that human activity, in some manner, impacts that change,” Pruitt said during his hearing.

“The ability to measure with precision, the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be.”

While the statements are clearly out of the “stalling action on climate change” playbook, it’s thankfully a little more palatable than the “climate change is a Chinese scam” theory posited by Trump.

Pruitt has previously said he wanted to roll back EPA regulations on the oil and gas industries, arguing that the administration of outgoing president Obama had “overstepped its authority”, according to S&P Global Platts.

He has criticised the US Renewable Fuel Standard, which dictates a percentage of fuel that must be renewable, as “unworkable”. In his confirmation, however, he distanced himself from the comments and said he would uphold the biofuel mandate.

Pruitt is currently engaged in at least eight legal cases against the agency he is in line to lead, including the Obama administration’s plan to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired plants.

Montana representative Ryan Zinke, a retired Navy SEAL, looks set to be Secretary of the Interior. A member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Zinke is expected to help the charge for more onshore and offshore drilling for oil and gas. He is a supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline and has backed legislation to end the Interior agency’s moratorium on coal leasing.

“In his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Zinke said he would review Obama’s decision to block oil and natural gas drilling in most US Arctic waters,” S&P Global Platts said.

S&P Global Platts said Zinke was toeing a bipartisan line, however, claiming he was for land conservation and environmental protections on energy development, and also opposed to the sale or transfer of public lands. He also said he did not believe climate change was a hoax, and that humans had an impact on the climate.

One eyebrow raiser has been former ExxonMobil chief executive and chairman Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. S&P Global Platts said Tillerson has in the past challenged the effectiveness of international sanctions, including those against Russian joint ventures that have cost ExxonMobil an estimated US$1 billion, and has developed close ties with Russia. However during the confirmation he gave his support for countering recent Russian aggressions and said sanctions remained a powerful tool. Tillerson is expected to use relationships developed at ExxonMobil to improve US relations in the Middle East, S&P Global Platts said.

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