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Sununu Environmental Services pick questioned on experience in Executive Council hearing



Monitor staff
Thursday, April 13, 2017

When retired U.S. Army Col. Peter Kujawski was called to the governor’s office recently, he wasn’t asking to be named the commissioner of environmental services, he said. The Bedford businessman was simply offering up his expertise and hopes to get back into the public sector.

Kujawski agreed to the nomination after Republican Gov. Chris Sununu laid out a number of options, including leading the labor department or economic development, Kujawski recalled Wednesday.

“It was pretty clear from my background and experience I could make the biggest contribution to the (Department of Environmental Services),” he told executive councilors at a public hearing on his nomination.

Virtually unknown among state environmental groups, Kujawski acknowledged a lack of professional experience in the subject of environmental issues. But the former Sig Sauer executive told councilors he could quickly get up to speed with regulations. Kujawski cited his experience handling hazardous materials in the military, business background and time spent in the Eagle Scouts as qualifications that would help him lead the department charged with managing water quality, air pollution and waste.

“There’s a common theme in my career from my youth through to the present: It’s called leadership,” he told the five councilors who will vote on his nomination at a later date. “My objective would be to make the organization the best environmental protector in the nation.”

Beyond a pledge to use technology and innovation to resolve environmental problems, Kujawski laid out few specifics about how he would tackle climate change or deal with PFOA contamination. Kujawski told councilors he believes climate change is man-made. But the nominee said he doesn’t have enough information to take a stance on the controversial Northern Pass project or the federal Clean Power Plan, a major carbon-cutting initiative approved under the Obama administration.

“He’s an outside-the-box nominee for this department,” said Democratic Councilor Chris Pappas after the hearing. “I would like to see someone with more of an environmental background who has more of a demonstrated passion for environmental issues, but I’m willing to give him a look.”

Kujawski, who has a chemical engineering degree, most recently worked at View Inc., a company that manufactures glass that changes tint depending on the sun’s glare, according to his resume.

All those who testified at the two-hour hearing, including former state Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick and colleagues from Sig Sauer, praised Kujawski’s leadership skills and enthusiasm.

“He is a strong manager,” said George Bald, former commissioner of the state’s Department of Resources and Economic Development. “Pete is the type of person who can take an organization and make it better.”

Republican Councilor Joe Kenney said he was impressed with Kujawski’s leadership skills and indicated he would back his nomination.

Kujawski is the latest of several Sununu nominees who lack a professional background in the subject matter of their position. The council confirmed businessman and former state representative Frank Edelblut to lead the state’s education department. Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield, a business administrator at the Department of Health and Human Services, is now under consideration to head the Labor Department.

No one from the department or local environmental groups testified. Will Abbott, with the Society for Protection of New Hampshire, said after the hearing he was there to listen and met Kujawski for the first time Tuesday.

“I really don’t have much to say,” he said. “He’s a very personable guy. His background in environmental policymaking is pretty short.”

Pappas pressed the nominee on his Northern Pass position, saying that in an earlier meeting, Kujawski had indicated support for the project.

“I would say my comments to you then were more off-the-cuff than rooted in deep technology, science or thought,” Kujawski responded.

When questioned by Democratic Councilor Andru Volinsky about why he sought the job, Kujawski said Sununu had also offered him a position at a private company, which Sununu’s spokesman later denied.

“The governor ... offered me position of a vice president of a company that is moving to New Hampshire,” Kujawski said to the council. “I said ‘Governor, I admire your selflessness but why would you be willing to give me up to a private company when I came here looking for a job within your administration.’ ”

Sununu spokesman Dave Abrams said after the hearing Kujawski had “misspoke.”

“The Governor has had several broad conversations about whether Mr. Kujawski’s talents are best utilized in the public or private sectors in a variety of different roles,” Abrams said in a written statement. “Ultimately, the Governor decided that Mr. Kujawski’s skills best serve the Department of Environmental Services.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)