By: Laura Leslie, WRAL
June 2, 2021
RALEIGH, N.C. — After an angry debate, a key Senate committee voted on party lines Wednesday to reject Gov. Roy Cooper’s nomination of Dionne Delli-Gatti as secretary of the Dept. of Environmental Quality.
Senate Leader Phil Berger is urging Cooper to withdraw Delli-Gatti’s nomination before it goes to the Senate floor for a vote.
Senate GOP leaders say they have approved all 15 nominees as agency heads sent to them by the Democratic governor. But in Cooper’s first term, at least one nomination had to be quietly pulled because Senate Republicans threatened to reject it.
Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, referred at the beginning of Wednesday’s Senate Environment meeting to the Colonial Pipeline shutdown and a recent committee hearing at which industry executives said the state is too dependent on a single gas pipeline.
Newton said Delli-Gatti was not sufficiently knowledgeable about the Cooper administration’s natural gas strategy or on potential plans for a second pipeline.
Delli-Gatti was not allowed to speak at the meeting, despite repeated requests from Democrats on the panel. and Democrats say she was advised not to even attend.
Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, called the process “a sham” and “a mockery,” sentiments echoed by the other Democrats on the panel.
“She’s immensely qualified. Nobody has disputed that,” fumed Sen. Michael Garrett, D-Guilford. “And I’m offended. for the Secretary, for the citizens of this state, that we don’t even want to have the conversation. You’re all sitting there like you’re okay with it. I know you as individuals are not okay with this. The people of North Carolina deserve better.”
Senate Republicans quickly sent out a news release explaining the vote.
“North Carolina’s future, not to mention lights, heat and air conditioning in millions of homes, is at risk because of the state’s full reliance on a single natural gas pipeline,” Sen. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico, said in a statement.
“Ms. Delli-Gatti could not articulate the Cooper Administration’s natural gas strategy, which she would presumably lead or at least be heavily involved in, nor was she informed about a major pipeline that her own agency rejected 48 hours later,” Sanderson added. “Given the importance of this issue, that’s disqualifying.”
The Cooper administration decried the vote.
“Secretary Delli Gatti is eminently qualified to run DEQ,” said Cooper spokesman Ford Porter. “This has nothing to do with pipelines, and Republican excuses for voting her down are a red herring to prevent her from protecting clean air and water and holding utilities accountable while they negotiate a secret energy bill.”
Delli-Gatti came to DEQ from the Environmental Defense Fund, where she worked on climate and energy issues in the Southeast. Before that, she worked for the EPA in Atlanta and Ohio. She also has experience consulting in the private sector.