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Cooper’s new environment pick gets positive hearing response

August 17, 2021 GMT

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s latest pick for environment secretary completed a largely favorable confirmation hearing Tuesday, weeks after Republicans rejected his earlier choice because they said her responses on natural gas issues were lacking.

Elizabeth Biser, previously a legislative lobbyist and environmental policy adviser, told a Senate committee that she aligns herself with Cooper’s energy strategy to locate a mix of fuel sources “that are clean, affordable and available.” She said it’s up to the state Utilities Commission to decide what that mix should be.

“Certainly natural gas is part of that mix,” Biser said. “But I’m not coming in here with some predetermined mix of what I think that should be.”

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Senate Republicans declined in June to confirm Dionne Delli-Gatti, whom the governor initially chose to succeed Michael Regan, Cooper’s first-term secretary. President Joe Biden had plucked Regan from his Cabinet post to become Environmental Protection Agency administrator.

It marked the first time a Cabinet appointment by a North Carolina governor had received a no-confirmation result since the full Senate began the advice-and-consent process as Cooper took office in 2017. Cooper kept Delli-Gatti on his team, however, quickly naming her as clean energy director within the Department of Environmental Quality.

Senate leaders said Delli-Gatti was ill-prepared for the secretary’s post, citing her lack of insight on the governor’s natural gas expansion policy and permitting within the Department of Environmental Quality for the Mountain Valley Pipeline-Southgate. Cooper and Senate Democrats said the GOP’s rejection of her was based on politics.

Sen. Paul Newton, a Cabarrus County Republican, and a leading critic of Delli-Gatti on natural gas, praised Biser after the meeting.

“She was very well prepared and did a great job,” said Newton, a retired Duke Energy executive. “She’ll be a great representative of the state of North Carolina.” The committee’s co-chairman, Republican Sen. Chuck Edwards of Henderson County, said he expected a committee vote Wednesday on whether to advance her nomination in the chamber. He said he needed more time to review Biser’s comments before stating how he would vote.

The proposed MVP-Southgate pipeline would enter from southern Virginia into central North Carolina. GOP lawmakers are worried about natural gas supplies following the cyberattack on a liquid-fuel pipeline in May.

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The federal government signs off on the actual operating permits for pipelines, while DEQ largely deals with details, such as how they cross bodies of water. Biser said her agency will act based on whether they meet rules and regulations under which it operates, and not on energy preferences.

“I’m not in the business of making policy out of permitting,” she told the Senate Agriculture, Energy and Environment Committee during the 90-minute hearing.

Biser also highlighted the governor’s energy plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and state government energy use, as well as to increase the number of zero-emission vehicles on the roads. Edwards pressed Biser about whether she believed the Cooper administration could join a multi-state pact designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants without the legislature’s OK.

The Environmental Management Commission voted last month to begin developing rules designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 70%, with the multi-state “cap-and-trade” program assisting with meeting the target. The legislature can overturn executive branch rules.

“There’ll be opportunities at both the executive branch and the legislative branch to weigh in on that process before anything is adopted,” said Biser, adding she was still studying the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Critics say such a plan would raise electric rates.

Biser, who grew up in eastern North Carolina, was a legislative liaison for DEQ’s predecessor agency and most recently an executive for a national recycling group. She won plaudits from committee members when she said the state does not “have to ever choose between a good environment and a good economy.”