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Apr 17, 2017 1:25 PM

Sununu drops nomination for environmental commissioner after rocky hearing


CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu announced on Monday that he’s withdrawing his nomination of Peter Kujawski as commissioner of New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services.

The decisions follows last Wednesday’s rocky performance by Kujawski at a public confirmation hearing in front of the Executive Council.

At that hearing, Kujawski was questioned over his qualifications for the job and his understanding of state environmental policy and programs.

And in a unusual moment, Kujawski said that the governor had dangled several other jobs in front of him, including a vice president position in a private company that’s moving to New Hampshire. The governor’s office later said that Kujawski misspoke.

In a statement, Sununu’s Chief of Staff, Jayne Millerick said Monday that “after speaking with the Executive Councilors and hearing their concerns, Governor Sununu will not bring forward Peter Kujawski for confirmation as Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services.”

Kujawski is a retired Army colonel with an MBA who also held executive positions at two Granite State based companies, gun maker Sig Sauer and Nanocomp Technologies. But he had little experience when it comes to leading the Department of Environmental Services, which manages and protects the state’s land, water, and air resources. More than 400 employees work at the department, which has an annual budget of over $200 million.

Asked during the hearing about his qualifications, Kujawski highlighted, among other things, that he was an eagle scout. And when asked who he would rely on for advice on environmental issues, he showed off a stack of business cards he said he recently collected from meetings with state environmental groups

But no one testified against Kujawski at his confirmation hearing and he was strongly supported by several former top state officials.

During the hearing, Kujawski also said the DES commissioner position was one of several the governor discussed when the two met.

"DES was at the top of the list, labor was next, there was some discussion of DRED, and very little discussion of DCYF,” Kujawski told the council.

When Democratic Councilor Andru Volinsky asked him to clarify, Kujawski added that “not only that, the Governor unselfishly offered me a position as a vice-president of a company that's moving to New Hampshire.”

The next day, Sununu told NHPR “we talked a little bit about what interest he would have in the private sector, whether he was going to go that route or if I could entice him into the public sector. But obviously there was never anything offered in the private sector, that doesn’t make any sense.”

While it appeared clear the neither Volinsky or Chris Pappas, the other Democrat on the five member council, would be inclined to support Kujawski, the possible loss of support by one or more of the three Republicans on the council would have been the death knell of the nomination.

While GOP councilor Joe Kenney supported the nomination, fellow Republican Russell Prescott opposed it. It's not clear whether Republican David Wheeler, the dean of council, stood.

Minutes after the statement by the Corner Office, the New Hampshire Democratic Party criticized Sununu, the state’s first Republican governor in a dozen years.

“Kujawski was clearly unprepared for his nomination hearing, and his lack of environmental experience and lack of deep consideration of many issues made him unqualified for the job. Rather than appointing the acting DES commissioner who was already doing the job, he nominated a friend and donor who was vying for any agency nomination Sununu would hand him,” longtime NHDP chair Ray Buckley said in a statement.

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