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Monday June 20, 2011 | 08:41 PM

Sen. Olympia Snowe was noncommittal this evening about whether she will back President Obama’s nomination of John Bryson to be secretary of commerce.

The Maine Republican is a senior Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, which Tuesday will hold Bryson’s nomination hearing.

Some Republicans have taken issue with Bryson, the former California utility executive, for his role in founding the environmental advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council, while Obama and Democrats tout his work with green energy and his business executive background.

Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, were two of just three Senate Republicans who did not sign a GOP letter back in March, before Bryson was nominated, saying whoever Obama nominated for commerce secretary and other trade related posts would be blocked until Obama sent trade deals with South Korea, Columbia and Panama to Congress for approval. For their part, Democrats wants Republicans to back a bill extending trade assistance for workers displaced by foreign imports, something Republicans oppose.

But after Snowe met with Bryson today, she issued a release posing questions and defining what the next commerce secretary needs to accomplish, in her view, without any indication of whether or not she intends to back his nomination in the commerce committee.

“The next secretary of commerce must lead the charge against staggering unemployment rates to create jobs and reclaim the competitive edge that has defined American business for decades,” Snowe said. “Mr. Bryson and I also discussed the Administration’s imperative to move from simply talking about job creation to taking clear action that meaningfully reduces our nation’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate.

Snowe also noted her role as top Republican on the commerce committee’s subcommittee on oceans, atmosphere, fisheries and the Coast Guard, saying she asked Bryson “about his plans to promote economic development and job creation in the seafood supply chain while protecting marine and coastal resources.”

Collins did not mention Bryson’s old role with the NRDC. But the environmental group has been criticized by the fishing industry for pushing regulations the industry regards as too restrictive, an issue raised by Democratic Reps. Barney Frank and John Tierney pf Massachusetts earlier this month when they expressed concerns about Bryson’s nomination.

Snowe said that, “the next commerce secretary must be focused on growing our marine economy and ensuring American fishermen have a level playing field with their international counterparts while avoiding more regulatory burdens on this industry.”

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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