John Bryson is President Obama’s choice to lead the Commerce department. It is a move that serves as an olive branch to the nation’s business community and a sign of commitment to the green energy sector.

John BrysonBryson (pictured left) is one of the founders of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental advocacy organization. For 18 years, he served as CEO of Edison International, a California-based utility company. Most recently, he served as chairman of BrightSource Energy Inc., one of the nation’s leading solar power companies. Bryson also has experience in the public utility world, having served as president of the California Public Utilities Commission from 1979 to 1982.

Environmental background

Beyond his role in starting the NRDC, Bryson served as the organization’s legal council before taking over California’s utilities. There, Bryson separated utility profits from power use rates to promote energy conservation. In the private sector, Bryson was credited with keeping Edison out of bankruptcy during the California energy market meltdown of 2000. Though brownouts plagued California into 2001, and state assistance helped stabilize Edison’s position in the market, the company ultimately survived.

Frances Beinecke, president of the NRDC, said Bryson, “has long recognized the benefits of efficiency and renewable energy technologies, and he understands the critical need for us to continue investing in them.”

Going green

When the market goes green, so do the capitalists, and that’s exactly what Bryson has been doing since last fall. In September, Bryson began serving as the chairman of BrightSource Energy. The company recently scored a $1.6 billion loan from the federal government to build a 393-megawatt solar-thermal power plant in California. The power plant, known as the Ivanpah project, will span 3,000 acres of the Mojave Desert. The company committed to raise $250 million for the project.

The solar connection is an important message from the Obama administration, which has been focusing on increasing domestic energy sources in recent months. Obama has also pointed to the green energy sector as a growth area for the country. He repeated that message when he introduced Bryson at the White House. “That's how we'll reduce our dependence on foreign oil and that's how we'll encourage new businesses and jobs to take root on our shores. John understands this better than virtually anybody,” Obama said.

Getting back to business

By putting Bryson at the helm of the Commerce department, President Obama should be able to calm a relationship with the business community that has grown increasingly testy. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent more than $30 million on candidates opposing the president’s policies in the 2010 midterms.

Since then, Obama has chosen JP Morgan Executive Bill Daley to be the administration’s chief of staff. General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt was chosen earlier this year to lead the president’s panel of economic advisors. It is reported that Daley singled out Bryson because of his corporate experience. In addition to his time at Edison, Bryson served on the board of directors for Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, and the Walt Disney Company.

If confirmed by the Senate, Bryson will replace Garry Locke, who has been nominated to serve as ambassador to China. As Commerce chief, Bryson would be tasked with fulfilling Obama’s goal of doubling U.S. exports from the 2009 level of $1.57 trillion to $3.14 trillion in 2014. That’s a lot of green, no matter how you look at it.

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