NC Senators Reject Qualified DEQ Secretary

In a party-line vote last Thursday, pro-polluter state Senators rejected Gov. Roy Cooper’s qualified nominee Dionne Delli-Gatti for Secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). This was a blindside that no one outside anti-environment Senate leadership saw coming, making Delli-Gatti’s the first gubernatorial nomination to be rejected by the Senate since they gave themselves that power in 2016.

Delli-Gatti would have been the first woman to serve as DEQ Secretary, and she brought strong qualifications to the role, having served in leadership and technical roles with the Environmental Defense Fund, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Ohio state EPA, and the City of Dallas.

This shameful outcome was set up by hostile Republican questioning during a committee hearing the previous day to send Delli-Gatti’s nomination to the Senate floor. Democratic Senators supporting her nomination were outraged by the 26-20 party-line vote against her confirmation. “So what are you seeing that the rest of North Carolina does not?” Sen. DeAndrea Salvador (D-Mecklenburg) asked Republicans. “This isn’t about what Secretary Delli-Gatti knows or doesn’t. We were blindsided. This came out of nowhere.”  

After the shocking committee hearing, our Director of Governmental Relations said, “Senate Republicans should be ashamed of their dismissive conduct toward a United States veteran. Their reasoning simply does not pass the smell test. Sec. Delli-Gatti has the experience to lead DEQ, and should be confirmed right away. If Duke Energy supports her, as they claim, they should flex some of their muscle and get her confirmation back on track. Otherwise, any energy legislation coming down the pike will be rightly vetoed by Gov. Cooper and dead on arrival.”

Gov. Cooper was asked about it during a COVID press conference, and reacted with firm resolve. “Nothing is going to stop this administration from working toward a clean energy future for North Carolina or protecting clean air and water.”

DEQ’s former legislative liaison said, “The Republican majority has always hated DEQ. Budget cuts, staff cuts down to individual and personal levels for over a decade. This vote not to confirm is completely political and another attack [on] the agency. A sad and weak political move from the majority.”

Was it just a naked partisan move to ding Gov. Cooper after all, or a genuine allegiance to natural gas pipelines? After public pressure from us and others, even Duke and Dominion Energy released statements supporting Delli-Gatti and denying they were behind the Senate’s sudden opposition. 

Delli-Gatti had already been serving as acting secretary since February, since Michael Regan ascended to lead EPA for President Biden. Delli-Gatti had vowed to stay on after the committee hearing. But the same law that gave senators confirmation power made it clear she could not following the full body’s down vote. So previous DEQ Deputy Secretary John Nicholson will serve as interim secretary for now.

Delli-Gatti isn’t done fighting, however. Immediately following her nomination’s defeat, the governor re-hired Delli-Gatti to serve as his newly created Clean Energy Director. From that position, she will “work on administrative efforts to promote clean energy in North Carolina including negotiating energy legislation, advancing regulatory efforts, implementing Executive Order 80 and more.” The “and more” includes making life harder for the senators who rejected her and the polluters who back their campaigns.

“Dionne Delli-Gatti has the experience and qualifications to serve as Secretary of DEQ, and the legislature’s baseless political criticism of her credentials is but a smokescreen to thwart North Carolina’s transition to clean energy that she has the knowledge to help put in place. I am pleased that Dionne will continue to serve our state in the role of North Carolina Clean Energy Director as we transition to renewable energy,” said Gov. Cooper.

Delli-Gatti herself was pithy in her public response, echoing what then-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said of his colleague Elizabeth Warren, which became a mantra for women across America if not the world: “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

If you’re as angry as we are about the Senate’s assault on clean air, clean water, and clean energy last week as we are, help us beat them at the ballot box next year by donating today!

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