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Sununu drops nominee for New Hampshire environmental agency

Kathleen Ronayne, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Republican Gov. Chris Sununu dropped his nominee to lead the state's Department of Environmental Services on Monday over concerns he wouldn't be confirmed by the Executive Council.

Peter Kujawski, a Bedford businessman, faced questions last week over his lack of professional experience in environmental protection and limited understanding of the state's environmental regulations and projects. Concerns from the five-member council prompted Sununu to withdraw the nomination, his chief of staff said.

At least one of Sununu's fellow Republicans, Councilor Russell Prescott, planned to buck the governor because he didn't believe Kujawski had the right background to serve in government.

"It's quite different than serving in the military or serving in a private business," Prescott said Monday.

He added that he found Kujawski's resume impressive but wants to see a commissioner with more experience working in "a volatile political climate."

Republican Councilor Joe Kenney said he would have voted for Kujawski. Republican David Wheeler and Democrats Chris Pappas and Andru Volinsky couldn't be reached immediately for comment on Monday, but all three expressed doubt about Kujawski's fitness for the post last week.

Kujawski didn't respond to a phone call seeking comment. During his public hearing, he said his management experience at large companies such as Sig Sauer would allow him to effectively lead a complex department. But he admitted a lack of knowledge on projects like the Northern Pass transmission line and said he hadn't thought about how the department could help combat climate change.

It's not the first time Sununu has faced fire over a nominee as he works to fill a number of department leadership posts. Sununu's education nominee, Frank Edelblut, sat through a highly contentious public hearing that centered on his lack of experience in public education. Edelblut was ultimately confirmed by the council's three Republicans, a threshold Kujawski couldn't meet.

Democrats characterized Sununu's appointment of Kujawski as an act of political patronage. Kujawski said he discussed a number of government posts with Sununu before being offered the environmental job. In a bizarre dustup, he told councilors Sununu even offered him a vice presidency at a private company planning to relocate to New Hampshire, a claim Sununu's office quickly denied.

Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, suggested Sununu should look inside the department for a more qualified nominee.

"Rather than appointing the acting DES commissioner who was already doing the job, (Sununu) nominated a friend and donor who was vying for any agency nomination Sununu would hand him," Buckley said in a statement.

Kujawski contributed $400 to Sununu's gubernatorial campaign, records show.

Assistant DES Commissioner Clark Friese has been leading the department since January, when former commissioner Tom Burack stepped down after 10 years.

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This story has been corrected to show the name of the assistant commissioner is Clark, not Clarke.