In early 2021, President Biden appointed Michael Regan, then Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), to serve as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator. Gov. Cooper quickly nominated Dionne Delli-Gatti for Regan’s old position. Having served in leadership and technical roles with the Environmental Defense Fund, the U.S. EPA, Ohio’s EPA, the City of Dallas, and as interim DEQ Secretary, her resumé spoke for itself. If appointed, she would have been the first woman DEQ Secretary. Senate Republicans had other ideas.
In a shocking move, the Senate rejected Delli-Gatti’s nomination(1), making her the first gubernatorial nomi- nation to face that fate since senators gave themselves that power in 2016, following Cooper’s election. When asked the reasoning behind their rejection, Republican senators claimed Delli-Gatti “was not qualified because she could not articulate Governor Cooper’s plan for natural gas,” even though Cooper had not released such a plan.
Democratic Senators were outraged at 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 asked Republicans. “This isn’t about what Secretary Delli-Gatti knows or doesn’t. We were blindsided. This came out of nowhere.”
Gov. Cooper noted, “Dionne Delli-Gatti has the experience and qualifications to serve as Secretary of DEQ, and the legislature’s baseless political criticism of her credentials(2) is but a smokescreen to thwart North Carolina’s transition to clean energy that she has the knowledge to help put in place.”
Despite this setback, Gov. Cooper remained deter- mined. “Nothing is going to stop this administration from working toward a clean energy future for North Carolina or protecting clean air and water.”
He soon nominated Elizabeth Biser for the role. Biser has a strong background in negotiating environmental matters with state agencies and legislators. The North Carolina native had served as government relations director for the North Carolina Sierra Club, as legislative liaison for DEQ’s predecessor agency, and later repre- sented groups including the Environmental Defense Action Fund, Friends of State Parks, and the Recycling Partnership. The Senate unanimously confirmed Biser on August 24, 2021. Following her confirmation, Biser stated she is “honored and humbled to lead the agency charged with providing environmental stewardship for the health and prosperity of all North Carolinians.” Cooper’s quick nomination of Biser after Delli-Gatti’s rejection underscores his refusal to allow hostility from pro-polluter legislators to deter his commitment to climate action. Since her appointment, Secretary Biser has demonstrated her dedication to solving important environmental legacy issues affecting North Carolinians, and we look forward to working with her in protecting North Carolina’s communities and environment.
Sources: 1: https://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2021/06/03/who-derailed-dionne-delli-gattis-confirmation-as-deq-secretary-no-one-wants-to-own-it/ 2: https://governor.nc.gov/news/ 8 press-releases/2021/06/03/governor-cooper-announces-dionne-delli-gatti-serve-north-carolina-clean-energy-director