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Obama Picks Solar Energy Exec Bryson for Commerce Dept.

Roy Harris | June 1, 2011
Veteran of energy, environmental and regulatory leadership posts would succeed Gary Locke, who's becoming ambassador to China.

FRAMINGHAM, MA, USA, MAY 31, 2011—Filling a key role in his cabinet, President Obama chose former Edison International CEO John Bryson as Commerce Department secretary, praising the 67-year-old for his "decades of business experience across a range of industries."

Bryson currently is chairman of BrightSource Energy Inc., a developer of solar power plants. He also is a cofounder and former attorney for the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and a onetime head of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

If the Senate confirms him, Bryson would replace Secretary Gary Locke, who Obama has nominated as U.S. ambassador to China.

A native New Yorker who spent most of his career in California after being educated at Stanford and Yale Law School, Bryson likely will become a major player of Obama's plans to double U.S. exports by the end of 2014, to more than $3 trillion, as proclaimed in the Economic Report of the President to Congress.

But Bryson's background also lends itself to the president's goals for lean and renewable energy. After serving California-based Edison International from 1984 until his retirement in 2008–including 17 years as CEO–Bryson retired in 2008. As chairman of Oakland-based BrightSource, he now is a leader of a company that aims to use solar-thermal technology to generate capacity equal to 11 nuclear power plants.

In his time at Southern California-based utility Edison, Bryson helped manage the company through a 2000-2001 energy crisis that bankrupted rival Pacific Gas & Electric, which was part of San Francisco-based PG&E Corp. Edison was forced to sell most of its overseas assets after its debt rating declined in part due to the crisis.

His credentials with the NRDC advocacy group gained him much support among environmentalists over the years. NRDC President Frances Beinecke said in a statement that Bryson is "a visionary leader in promoting a clean environment and a strong economy." During his presidency of the CPUC from 1979 to 1982, one of Bryson's contribution was to separate utility profits from power use rates, helping encourage utilities to promote energy conservation.

Among his other business connections are directorships with Boeing and Walt Disney Co.

As interpreted by Bloomberg News, the choice of a business executive like Bryson for the commerce post is the latest move by Obama to repair relations between the White House and the business community. After sparring for much of last year over the president's health-care and financial regulatory overhauls, Obama has sought to reach out to more CEOs and business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent more than US$30 million on 2010 congressional elections that gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives.


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