By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former energy company executive John Bryson on Tuesday sought to persuade Republicans he would be a strong voice for business in President Barack Obama's administration if confirmed as Commerce Secretary.
"The reason that President Obama reached out to me was my business experience," Bryson told the Senate Commerce Committee during a hearing in which he faced questions about his support for unpopular cap-and-trade legislation to curb carbon emissions believed to contribute to global climate change.
However, Senator John Thune said Bryson could have a hard time winning approval until Obama formally submits three long-delayed free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia to Congress for approval.
Republicans said three months ago they would oppose any of Obama's trade nominees until he sends the deals to Congress and are still waiting for him to do that, Thune said.
Bryson served as chief executive of California utility Edison International from 1990 to 2008 before becoming chairman of BrightSource Energy, a solar energy company.
He told the Senate panel his top priority would be to help the U.S. economy create more jobs.
"If confirmed, I will be a voice in this administration for simplifying regulations that are difficult to understand and eliminating regulations that are unnecessary," he said.
Bryson, who resigned last week from Boeing's board of directors, also criticized the National Labor Relations Board's decision to pursue a formal complaint against the aircraft manufacturer for its decision to site a 787 Dreamliner assembly line in non-union South Carolina.
"I think it's not the right judgment," Bryson said. "We thought we were doing the right thing for the country" by locating the jobs in South Carolina instead of moving them overseas, Bryson said.
The NRLB complaint asserts Boeing located the jobs in South Carolina to punish the International Association of Machinists for past strikes.
Prior to Tuesday's hearing, Senator John Barrasso, a member of the Senate Republican leadership, branded Bryson an "environmental extremist" for his support of cap-and-trade legislation that failed to clear the Senate and his role in founding the Natural Resource Defense Council, a leading environmental group.
No Republican used that term during the confirmation hearing on Tuesday, but Senator Jim DeMint said he hoped Bryson would have the "courage to speak up against some of most anti-business policies I think we have ever seen in our country" under the Obama administration.
Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, pressed Bryson for assurances his support for cap-and-trade legislation did not mean he would press for phasing out the use of coal.
"No, not at all," Bryson said, saying he believed the United States had to rely on a diverse mix of fuels.
Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Todd Eastham)