The NC Senate rejected his nominee, so Gov. Roy Cooper gave her a new job
Shortly after the North Carolina Senate rejected his nominee to head the state's Department of Environmental Quality, Gov. Roy Cooper announced a new job for her: North Carolina Clean Energy Director.Posted — Updated
Soon after the North Carolina Senate rejected his nominee to head the state's Department of Environmental Quality Thursday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced a new job for her: clean energy director.
In that new role, outgoing DEQ Secretary Dionne Delli-Gatti will focus on "administrative efforts to promote clean energy in North Carolina, including negotiating energy legislation" with lawmakers who just rejected her, the governor's office said in a news release. Her new salary will be the same as the old one: $155,526 a year.
The governor's office said DEQ Chief Deputy John Nicholson will be the department's interim secretary.
Delli-Gatti is the first Cooper cabinet secretary the Senate has rejected in the governor's five years in office. She would have been the first woman to lead the Department of Environmental Quality, but Republicans declined to confirm her Thursday on a party-line vote in the Senate.
Democrats say there's more to this than meets the eye.
"Whatever secret backroom deals are actually at the core of this action today, NC can rest easy knowing the Cooper administration will continue working to move NC to a clean energy future and following the law to protect the health/safety of people + our clean land, air and water," Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said in a tweet as the Senate voted not to confirm Delli-Gatti.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's press office shot back in its own post to the social media site: "So much baseless conspiracy theorizing. If you have an accusation to make, and any evidence whatsoever to support it, then please present it."
MVP Southgate, the company whose pipeline project DEQ denied a key certification for in recent weeks, said Thursday that it "has not taken a position on any state confirmation proceeding."
"We remain committed to working with state and federal officials to satisfy all permitting concerns in order to build this critical infrastructure project and meet public demand for natural gas in North Carolina," spokesman Shawn Day said in an email.
That project ran into permitting problems under Delli-Gatti's predecessor at DEQ, and then again when the department re-upped its objection to a planned pipeline stream crossing. That second decision came two days after Delli-Gatti's April 27 confirmation hearing before a key state Senate committee.
In that hearing, Sen. Paul Newton, a former Duke Energy executive repeatedly asked Delli-Gatti her position on natural gas, specifically asking if she was against expansion.
Delli-Gatti's previous job was with the Environmental Defense Fund. Newton, along with other state leaders, says natural gas expansion is need to fuel manufacturing growth in North Carolina.
"I don’t have a categorical view of (natural gas)," Delli-Gatti responded. "I do think we need to be thoughtful and make wise investments."
The key questions from that hearing, based on complaints about Delli-Gatti's performance that Newton, R-Cabarrus, and other Republicans raised this week, came next. This is a lightly edited transcript based on a hearing recording WRAL News reviewed Thursday.
Newton: Do you know what the governor’s position is on the expansion of natural gas in North Carolina?
Delli-Gatti: No sir, I do not.
Newton: Are you familiar with the MVP Southgate project? Have you worked on that?
Delli-Gatti: I didn‘t work on it. I have a little bit of knowledge on it. I have some briefing materials on it.
Newton: Do you have a position on the permitting of that project, one way or the other at this point?
Delli-Gatti: Not at this point, sir.
Newton didn't follow up on these points, turning instead to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a now-defunct natural gas project from Duke Energy and Dominion that has been a major point of contention for years between Senate Republicans and the Cooper administration.
Other, like wind and solar, aren't ready to shoulder the load of an ongoing shift from coal-fired power plants, Newton said, and "we cannot afford to hit the pause button on economic growth while we wait for tomorrow’s innovations."
“At bare minimum, give her the opportunity to publicly refute your claims," Sen. DeAndrea Salvador, D-Mecklenburg, told her Republican colleagues during Thursday's floor debate.
"This process has lacked integrity," she told the chamber, asking why it took Republicans more than a month to raise concerns with her answers.
Another Democrat, Sen. Julie Mayfield, said it was unfair to punish Delli-Gatti for not knowing Cooper's strategy on natural gas because he hasn't really articulated one.
"Indeed I would challenge anyone in this chamber to identify the governor's position on natural gas," Mayfield, D-Buncombe, said Thursday.
Asked later to articulate that position, Porter, Cooper's spokesman, said the back and forth over Delli-Gatti has "never been about natural gas," or her qualifications.
"The governor believes we need a broad energy portfolio, including access to natural gas, and that North Carolina should move toward a clean energy future and that regulators thoroughly review permit applications to protect the health and safety of North Carolinians," Porter said via email.
Berger, the Senate's top Republican, said Cooper's lack of a clear position was the day's biggest takeaway.
"It seems to me that, sort of the headline in this debate, was Governor Cooper has no plan," he said after the Senate vote. "Shouldn't that be something folks are concerned about? That he has no plan to deal with the issue of natural gas in the state of North Carolina? That's their defense."
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