Commerce nominee denies GOP charges of extremism

“A lot has happened in the 40 years since that took place,” Bryson said, referring to his co-founding of the NRDC.

Bryson touted his experience as the CEO of Edison International, a California-based electric power generator, noting that the company supported both coal and nuclear power, two energy sources that give many environmental groups heartburn.

“We’re proud of that,” Bryson said of Edison International’s work in the nuclear sector. “That’s not an NRDC policy.” While NRDC does not oppose nuclear power, it has raised a number of questions about its viability as an energy source.

Pressed by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), the ranking Republican on the committee, to explain his support for cap-and-trade during his time as CEO of Edison International, Bryson said his company was looking for regulatory certainty.

“We needed some predictability in the chaos of the time,” Bryson said, adding, “I certainly would not raise that as the secretary of Commerce.”

Republicans in recent weeks have bashed Bryson for co-founding the NRDC and supporting cap-and-trade.

“The president has appointed someone who is going to make it harder and more expensive for the private sector to create jobs,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said of Bryson earlier this month. He alleged that Bryson is an “environmental extremist.”

Other Republicans, like Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (Calif.), have raised similar concerns about Bryson, whose nomination also faces roadblocks from the GOP on trade issues.

But Bryson, during questioning at the hearing, touted his business credentials, noting his 18 years of experience as the CEO of Edison International, as well as a slew of other business positions.

“The reason President Obama reached out to me was because of my business experience,” Bryson said.

The federal government often imposes burdensome regulations on the businesses community, Bryson said. He assured lawmakers that he would work to streamline such rules at Commerce.

“The businesses in our country are too often stifled by absolutely unnecessary, cumbersome regulations and unnecessary regulatory costs and delays,” Bryson said. “If confirmed, I will be a voice in the administration for simplifying regulations and eliminating those where the cost of the regulation exceed the benefits.”

Bryson has had a long career in the energy and environmental sector. He spent years working on water and power issues in California, first as chairman of the California State Water Resources Control Board in the late 1970s and then as the head of the California Public Utilities Commission.

Bryson is also board chairman of BrightSource Energy, a California-based solar company. He previously served as a co-chairman of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, an electric vehicles trade association, and as a member of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change.

He has also had a long business career, serving as a director at the Walt Disney Company and Boeing.

President Obama nominated Bryson to head the Commerce Department at the end of May. He would replace Gary Locke, who has been nominated as the next ambassador to China.

Obama has called Bryson a "fierce proponent of alternative energy."

NRDC spokesman Bob Deans defended the group's record to The Hill in response to criticism from Republican lawmakers.

“For 40 years, this organization has stood up for clean air, clean water and wildlife,” he said.

Deans said NRDC is “heartened” that Bryson called for a diverse energy portfolio at the hearing Tuesday.

Asked if Bryson was trying to separate himself from NRDC, Deans said, “Given that Mr. Bryson has not been formally associated with NRDC since 1974, I do think he was trying to say that we’ve all evolved since then.”