Senate vote confirms Bryson as new US Commerce Secretary

Updated: 2011-10-22 07:58

By Doug Palmer (China Daily)

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WASHINGTON - John Bryson, a former energy company executive, was confirmed as Commerce secretary by a bipartisan vote of 74 to 26 in the United States Senate on Thursday. Bryson's appointment came despite objections from some Republicans because of his background as an environmentalist.

In May, President Barack Obama selected Bryson to replace Gary Locke as head of the Commerce Department, which has been at the forefront of government efforts to double US exports by 2014. Locke is now US ambassador to China.

"As Secretary of Commerce, John Bryson will be a key member of my economic team, working with the business community to promote job creation, foster growth, and help open up new markets around the world for American-made goods," said Obama in a statement.

Bryson was chief executive of the California utility Edison International from 1990 to 2008 before a brief stint as chairman of BrightSource Energy Inc, a solar energy company that received $1.6 billion in loan guarantees from the Obama administration in April.

Senate Republicans vowed to delay votes on Bryson and other trade nominees until Obama formally submitted three long-delayed free-trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama to Congress for approval.

Obama did so on Oct 3 and the Senate and House of Representatives swiftly approved the pacts.

Some conservative Republicans also objected to Bryson on policy grounds.

Senator John Barrasso, a member of the Senate Republican leadership, branded Bryson an "environmental extremist" for his support of cap-and-trade legislation that failed to clear the Senate last year, and also for his role four decades ago in founding the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental group.

Cap-and-trade refers to a scheme that would set a ceiling on emissions blamed for global warming and create a trading system among companies to meet it. Many opponents see it as a tax that will drive up the cost of energy.

At his confirmation hearing in June, Bryson defended his support for the cap-and-trade bill that passed the House of Representatives but died in the Senate, saying his views were widely shared in the utility industry.

He also promised to be an advocate of reducing burdensome government regulations to help create jobs.

"If confirmed, I will be a voice in this administration for simplifying regulations that are difficult to understand and eliminating regulations that are unnecessary," Bryson said.

The American Conservative Union, which earlier this week urged senators to vote "no" on the nomination, decried the confirmation, calling Bryson a "known job killer and enemy of American entrepreneurs".

"The senseless appointment of Mr Bryson is just another gaffe in a series of miserable economic policy decisions made by President Obama," ACU Chairman Al Cardenas said in a statement.

However, a group of mayors praised Bryson's experience as a former CEO and board member of such Fortune 100 companies as Walt Disney Co and Boeing Co, and called for his confirmation.

"He understands what American companies are facing in this economy, and he will be a business advocate in the (Obama) Cabinet. Most importantly, he knows that the private sector is the engine for job creation," the mayors said in an Oct 4 letter to Senate leaders.