WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate, on a bipartisan vote of 74-26 on Thursday, confirmed former energy company executive John Bryson as commerce secretary, despite the objection of some Republicans due to his background as an environmentalist.
President Barack Obama tapped Bryson in May to replace Gary Locke as head of the Commerce Department, which has been at the forefront of government efforts to double U.S. exports by 2014. Locke is now U.S. ambassador to China.
Obama hailed the Senate confirmation, saying in a statement, “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.”
Bryson was chief executive of California utility Edison International from 1990 to 2008 before serving a brief stint as chairman of BrightSource Energy, a solar energy company that received $1.6 billion in loan guarantees in April from the Obama administration.
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 October 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 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 for 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.
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, 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 October 4 letter to Senate leaders.
Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Peter Cooney