Sen. Inhofe places hold on Obama's nominee for commerce secretary

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said Tuesday he had placed a hold on the nomination of John Bryson to head up the Commerce Department, criticizing the former energy company executive for founding a major environmental group in the 1970s.

Inhofe hinted in May that he would place a hold on Bryson’s nomination. But his office said he officially placed the hold Tuesday.

“With sky-high unemployment and a struggling economy, who does President Obama choose to promote job growth?" Inhofe said to reporters Tuesday afternoon. “The founder of the radical Natural Resources Defense Council, a left-wing environmentalist organization, which, in the name of global warming, seeks to increase drastically the price of electricity and gasoline across America. This is a recipe for disaster for our economy.”

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Inhofe said he was working with conservative groups to mount a “grassroots” effort to put pressure on Obama to withdraw the Bryson nomination, which the White House stood behind Tuesday. 

“With nearly two decades as a CEO and having served in the leadership of some of America's top companies, John Bryson has created jobs and understands what it takes for American businesses to innovate and compete in an increasingly competitive global economy," White House spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said.

Inhofe appeared at a press conference Tuesday with American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas and Freedom Action President Myron Ebell. Both men pledged to mobilize their members against Bryson.

“Conservatives must lead the fight on this confirmation battle and shine a light on the reckless decisions President Obama is making regarding the future of our economy,” Cardenas said.

Inhofe and other Republicans have criticized Bryson for being a founder of the NRDC in the 1970s. They also have pointed to a comment from a March 2009 speech in which Bryson called the cap-and-trade bill that narrowly passed the House in 2009 a “moderate, but acceptable, bill.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a member of the Senate Republican leadership team, has called Bryson an “environmental extremist.”

Bryson’s supporters say he is anything but extreme. He spent much of his career as an energy executive, serving as CEO of Edison International, a California-based electric power generator, for 18 years.

Before his time at Edison International, Bryson 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 head of the California Public Utilities Commission.

The NRDC defended itself Tuesday from Republican criticism.

"NRDC has spent four decades cleaning up our air, waters, lands and protecting our wildlife. A few insist on calling that radical. We call it progress. The true 'radicals' are those who would undo 40 years of that progress," NRDC President Frances Beinecke said in a statement.

Republicans have said they would hold up Bryson’s nomination until Congress moves forward on three key trade deals.

Obama nominated Bryson in May to take over for Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who has been nominated as the next ambassador to China.