Republican state senators voted last week not to confirm Dionne Delli-Gatti as secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality because they think she is insufficiently knowledgeable about something they called Gov. Roy Cooper’s “natural gas strategy” and she was “unfamiliar” with a stalled natural gas pipeline project.
The problem isn’t with Delli-Gatti. She’s a U.S. Air Force veteran with extensive experience with environmental issues and regulation who has been the acting secretary of DEQ since her appointment by Cooper in February. She is eminently qualified. It is a disservice to North Carolinians and their environment that she is being forced from her post.
The problem is with Senate leader Phil Berger and Republican members of the Senate Agriculture, Energy and Environment Committee who ignored Delli-Gatti’s qualifications, seem ignorant about what the DEQ secretary does and don’t want to learn. Senate Republicans did not give Delli-Gatti a chance to speak during Wednesday’s committee meeting where they voted to oppose her nomination. They rejected Democratic Sen. Mike Woodard’s request to ask her questions that could have cleared up the Republican’s concerns.
“This has been a mockery of the nomination process today,” Woodard said.
“I had hoped it would potentially go another way or I would at least have the opportunity to respond to the concerns that were raised in the hearing, but unfortunately I did not have that opportunity,” Delli-Gatti said.
Republicans, including Berger, claim they were bothered by Delli-Gatti’s failure during an April confirmation hearing to hold forth on the need for another natural gas pipeline — the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP)-Southgate project. They say the state needs another pipeline because if its sole natural gas pipeline, the Transco pipeline, is disrupted, a major energy supply would be lost.
Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, said, “This isn’t even a matter of policy differences. Ms. Delli-Gatti was unable to articulate any strategy whatsoever surrounding North Carolina’s ‘number one vulnerability,’ which is our reliance on a single pipeline for all of our natural gas. That is disqualifying.”
Newton, a former Duke Energy executive, should know that it’s not the DEQ secretary’s job to plan energy supplies. That’s up to utilities and the North Carolina Utilities Commission. Indeed, Duke Energy supported Delli-Gatti’s nomination.
Nonetheless, Republican lawmakers think Delli-Gatti should have had more to say because her agency again denied a water quality certification for the MVP’s Southgate extension. The Southgate pipeline would tap into the MVP in Virginia and carry natural gas to delivery points in Rockingham and Alamance counties. However, construction of the MVP has been stalled by legal challenges. The DEQ has declined to approve the North Carolina extension out of concern that it would cause unnecessary environmental damage if the MVP is canceled, as was the case with the partially built and then terminated Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The real concern about Delli-Gatti being denied confirmation isn’t her knowledge of energy policy, but what it revealed about the Republicans’ lack of it. North Carolina’s “number one vulnerability” isn’t finding more fossil fuel to burn. It’s the climate change caused by burning fossil fuels. As clean energy use grows and demand for natural gas declines, there’s a growing question of whether new pipelines are worth the cost of building them.
That’s why Cooper doesn’t have “a natural gas strategy.” He has a Clean Energy Plan that would sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions and get North Carolina to carbon neutrality — removing as much carbon as is emitted — by 2050.
The rejection of an impressive nominee isn’t about natural gas. It’s about gaslighting. The Republicans said they were worried about a vulnerable North Carolina while they pushed out a leader well-qualified to protect it.
Today’s editorial is from The Charlotte Observer. The views expressed are not necessarily those of this newspaper.