Who derailed the confirmation of Dionne Delli-Gatti as secretary of the DEQ? No one wants to own it.
Dionne Delli-Gatti waited outside the entrance to the Senate Chamber gallery Thursday afternoon to find out if she would still have a job by the end of the day.
She was wearing a keychain her 8-year-old son gave her earlier this year after Governor Roy Cooper appointed her to head the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, one of the most complex agencies in the state.
The key chain said “No. 1 secretary.
But her position as the first woman to head the department was in doubt. On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Energy and the Environment had rejected his nomination, an unprecedented modern movement. Since 2016, when Republican lawmakers passed a law requiring the Senate to confirm governor’s nominees, the chamber has done so for 16 consecutive cabinet-level positions – so far.
In that committee hearing and in Thursday’s Senate debate, Republican Sens. Paul Newton and Chuck edwards led the charge against his appointment. They claimed that Delli-Gatti was “disqualified” because she “could not articulate the governor’s energy policy” and did not know the details of the MVP Southgate gas pipeline project.
To Democratic lawmakers, that seemed overkill.
“I urge you to reject this spurious process and stand up for what is right,” said Senator DeAndrea Salvador, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County during the Senate debate. “Kicking a qualified woman out of a position she already holds – something else is happening. It doesn’t stick.
Why Delli-Gatti drew the wrath of the Republican leadership is unknown. His initial confirmation hearing took place on April 27 and there was no follow-up meeting. Senate Democrats have publicly said they are blinded by the news that Delli-Gatti’s confirmation is questionable.
Two weeks ago, the Senate Energy Committee, with Newton again at the helm of the show, received testimony from Duke Energy, Dominion Energy and the American Petroleum Institute on what they consider to be. North Carolina’s need for more pipelines. Transco is the main supplier, but if a cyber attack or other disaster were to shut that line down, it could create an energy emergency in North Carolina, they said.
Curiously, Delli-Gatti “was not invited to participate” in this hearing, because Senator Michael Garrett, a Guilford County Democrat pointed out during the Senate debate.
“When you vote today you are voting to fire a veteran woman and the first woman to lead this department and by all standards is eminently qualified,” Garrett said.
And the reason why Delli-Gatti did not “articulate the energetic position of the governor,” said the senator. Julie Mayfield, a Democrat from Buncombe County, that’s because Cooper didn’t articulate it himself.
“If the governor hasn’t expressed a position on natural gas, is it fair to expect her to know what that position is, given that it doesn’t exist?” Mayfield said.
On the final day, Democrats indulged in amateur sleuths to track down who had derailed the governor’s choice. Shortly after Wednesday’s committee vote recommending against its confirmation, Duke Energy released a statement supporting Delli-Gatti. That evening, Dominion Energy had done the same.
Legislative sources told Policy Watch that the NC Chamber of Commerce, Smithfield Foods and the NC Pork Council were not responsible for the confirmation derailment.
That left few options: either another powerful natural gas company put its invisible finger on the scales, or Senator Newton and several of his colleagues had gone rogue, as a source told Policy Watch, “for send a message”.
Theresa Kostrzewa, a lobbyist for EquiTrans Midstream, a major partner in Project MVP Southgate, told Policy Watch that the company is not opposed to the nomination. “They were shocked,” Kostrzewa said of his clients. (She also represents Smithfield Foods; the company also did not object to the nomination, she said.)
Kostrzewa acknowledged that EquiTrans representatives met with several senators last week, including Senator Newton. The purpose of the meeting, Newton told Policy Watch, “was to learn what Project MVP Southgate was all about.”
But Newton is familiar with energy policy as a former Duke Energy executive; he’s unlikely to have had more than a rookie knowledge of MVP Southgate.
The project would enter North Carolina in Rockingham County, which is president of the Senate Temporary from Phil Berger District, and route southeast to Alamance County, where it would end near Haw River. It is an extension of the main Mountain Valley pipeline, which crosses Virginia. The main MVP project has stalled due to license violations and successful legal challenges in Virginia.
Kostrzewa was more specific about the meeting with Newton and her fellow Republican senators: she said her clients wanted to know “how to pass the permit”, referring to the water quality permit that DEQ refused during the term of former secretary Michael Regan.
MVP Southgate appealed the denial to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that DEQ had acted within its authority, but needed to better explain its rationale.
DEQ’s Water Resources Division again denied the permit in late April, with a fuller explanation, two days after Delli-Gatti’s initial confirmation hearing.
In correspondence with MVP Southgate regarding the permit denial, DWR Director Danny Smith expressed concern that if the main MVP pipeline crossing Virginia was not built, the environmental damage to the courses. water and streams by construction would be unnecessary. Without the main pipeline, there is no reason for the southern part to exist, DEQ said.
It was the same reasoning behind the initial refusal by the agency.
“It seems the denial of the permit angered some people,” Mayfield told the Senate. “I suggest that’s the real reason.”
There is precedent for DEQ’s concerns. Before Duke Energy and Dominion Energy canceled the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, their contractors had cleared forest land, excavated portions of agricultural fields, and used a prominent estate to attempt to seize property for the route. Now this property needs to be restored, the plan of which is still in draft form almost a year after the cancellation.
Yet Newton did not mention this possibility on the Senate floor. He called the 46-mile MVP Southgate project “the state’s most important piece of infrastructure.”
It is contradictory that Newton and Edwards disqualified Delli-Gatti for his misunderstanding of MVP Southgate’s license status. Republicans, including Newton, had blasted former DEQ secretary Michael Regan for allegedly meddling in the now-canceled Atlantic Coast pipeline clearance.
Now Delli-Gatti was warming up so as not to interfere enough.
“You will deny the state a qualified leader to run one of our most complex agencies,” said Senator Mike Woodard, a Democrat from Durham. “DEQ’s work is much larger, deeper and more complicated than just a problem. You will firmly let go of the rudder of a complex agency at a critical time.
After more than an hour of debate, the Senate voted 26-20, depending on the party, not to confirm Delli-Gatti.
The law requires Delli-Gatti to resign immediately, according to former DEQ deputy secretary Robin Smith, who is also an environmental lawyer. Smith wrote on his blog that a department head “cannot continue to serve after the Senate passes a resolution of disapproval. … This language seems to rule out the possibility that a defeated candidate will continue to serve as interim head of department until the Senate confirms a new name, although the courts have never been called upon to interpret the law.
The courts will not have to rule on Delli-Gatti’s confirmation. By mid-afternoon, she had a new job. Not the secretary’s job – Governor Cooper appointed Deputy Chief Secretary John Nicholson to serve on an interim basis – but key agency work, nonetheless.
Delli-Gatti is now the director of clean energy for North Carolina. From this position, the governor’s press release said, “Delli-Gatti will work on administrative efforts to promote clean energy in North Carolina, including negotiating energy legislation, promoting regulatory efforts, the implementation of Decree 80 and more. ”
DEQ issued a statement expanding Delli-Gatti’s role. The agency “reassigned the vacant post of state energy director to encompass state clean energy goals and policy development, an expansion of functions that was previously underway.” Delli-Gatti looks forward to focusing on clean energy on behalf of the agency and the people of North Carolina. “
Ironically, if Delli-Gatti had been confirmed, his attention would have been extended to the full gamut of environmental issues: water, air, mining, landfills, emerging compounds, etc. By voting not to confirm Delli-Gatti, 26 senators focused solely on energy, his specialty. Now they could find out exactly what she really knows.