Bush's Cabinet Appointments Cast 1,000 Points of Light on Next Energy Policy
Just what can the energy industry expect to encounter under
incoming President-elect George W. Bush's administration? The
former Midland, TX, oilman, paired with former Halliburton CEO Dick
Cheney, appears to be more open to new exploration and production.
Add to that Bush's recent Cabinet picks, and it beams a thousand
points of light on what industry may expect in the next four years.
So far, Bush has followed the path of presidents-elect before
him, deferring to the incumbent White House and choosing not to
offer advice about the current energy problems facing the country.
But these issues, which were a large part of his year-long campaign
to the presidency, are clearly on his mind.
"We are very worried about the energy problem that's looming for
the country," said Bush's spokesman Ari Fleischer last week, and
noted that California was already "deeply" feeling the effects.
Issues such as rising natural gas prices and continued foreign
reliance on oil are things Bush's team is "clearly worried about,"
Bush, who held court over an economic conference from the Texas
Governor's Mansion in Austin, has a transition team preparing
policy papers on what his incoming administration wants to
accomplish. Among those papers will be a comprehensive report on
energy supply, which would then be submitted to Congress, Fleischer
said. But the American public probably won't get a clear idea of
what's planned before the next president takes office.
Still, Bush's recent announcements for Cabinet posts and White
House advisers provide a few clues as to what his energy agenda
will propose. One of his campaign themes centered on opening up a
portion of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and
gas exploration. He also wants the United States to move away from
relying on foreign oil imports. And then there's the lack of a real
energy policy - something critics have said the Clinton
Administration failed to address.
Now, however, Republicans control the White House and Congress,
and the battle over new exploration and production may become one
of Bush's first battles. Clearly, things are about to become more
In opening remarks before the Senate Commerce Committee last
week, Commerce Department designate Don Evans, Bush's campaign
manager and a former energy executive himself, pledged to "foster a
marketplace where ideas and energy can thrive, where the
entrepreneurial spirit indeed will flourish."
Evans, who once worked as an oilfield roughneck and also was CEO
of his own energy company, won't even be in charge of one of the
departments overseeing aspects of the U.S. energy industry if he is
confirmed. But he offers just one more pin in the top-heavy energy
structure that Bush has built around him.
Those most likely to play a key role in pushing Bush's energy
agenda through - led in no small part by Bush and Cheney - will be
the Interior and Energy Cabinet heads and to a smaller extent,
Transportation. For Interior, Bush selected former Colorado
Attorney General Gale Norton. For Energy, Bush reached out to
former Michigan Sen. Spencer Abraham, who was defeated in his first
re-election bid in November. Bush also selected Norman Mineta, a
Democrat and the current secretary of the Commerce Department, to
be secretary of the Department of Transportation, which oversees
the Office of Pipeline Safety.
The real focus, the people who would be advising, shaping and
implementing Bush's energy program within the Cabinet, is on Norton
and Abraham. Both are considered conservative Republicans who
already have called attention to themselves in recent days because
of their outspoken statements on issues their new departments would
If confirmed, handling controversy should be no problem for
Norton, 46, who cut her teeth working under President Ronald
Reagan's heavily criticized first Interior Secretary James Watt and
Watt's successor Donald Hodel. Norton was hired by Watt for a staff
position at the Mountain States Legal Foundation, considered the
conservative's answer to the Sierra Club, favoring Western economic
interests including mining, timber production and ranching. She
also has litigated against the Endangered Species Act, a statute
that falls under the Interior Department's jurisdiction.
While working under Hodel, Norton was part of an unsuccessful
lobbying attempt in the mid-1980s to persuade Congress, then
controlled by Democrats, to open part of the ANWR to exploration.
As associate solicitor at Interior, Norton helped draft the legal
papers for Hodel's plan to open the coastal plain of ANWR.
Norton, a property rights advocate, has long pushed for a
balance between environmental and industrial interests in Colorado,
which has a history of growth and land management issues. She has
stated that there is an opportunity to make better use of most of
the land now under federal authority, including offering more
access to business.
As Colorado's first female attorney general, Norton favored
changing federal law in 1988 to allow industry to self-audit its
environmental pollution activities. Favored by business but
discouraged by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the
self-audit plan, which allows companies amnesty if they find
pollution problems, report them and clean them up, was threatened
with federal sanctions.
Norton still outspokenly favored the changes. "Companies are
more likely to find out if they have environmental problems if
there's some hope regulators will work with them," she said in
Although Norton has not generated quite as much heat as Bush's
choice for attorney general, John Ashcroft, she already has been
stung by the Sierra Club and others, which have threatened to block
Jerry Taylor, director of natural resource policy for the
Washington, D.C.-based Cato Institute, said that Norton's
appointment "is a throwing down of the gauntlet against the
constituency who believes that the federal government needs to lock
up more land or wall off existing land from further economic
Calling Norton "James Watt in a skirt," Allen Mattison, the
Sierra Club's national spokesman, said she would be just as
unsympathetic to conservationists as her former Interior bosses.
Watt, who eventually resigned, had angered many for attempting to
usurp Congressional restrictions to allow more oil and gas
exploration in the West.
Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski, who met with Norton in
pre-confirmation hearings last week, brushed off the
environmentalists' comments, saying she would be "superb." He said
he foresaw no problems with her confirmation hearings, and said she
would "protect the public lands, endangered species and improve
parks and recreational opportunities for all Americans."
Edmund Spencer Abraham, "Spence" to his colleagues, is a
one-term Michigan senator whom Bush has tapped to run the
beleaguered and second-tier Energy Department. Abraham, 48, was
considered a dark horse for the post, and ironically, he tried
three times in five years while he served in the Senate to abolish
the department he may soon head, calling it wasteful, with "no core
In a 1997 opinion article about the Energy Department written
for The Washington Times, Abraham said "Energy oversees everything
from nuclear waste disposal to energy conservation to corporate
welfare. What is not unneeded or harmful in this list would be
better secured without Energy's wasteful umbrella organization."
Asked about those comments last week, Abraham was not available.
His office said he was traveling. Following his selection, however,
Abraham said that "as we know, many significant Energy
Department-related issues face us at this time, ranging from the
adequacy of supply, to affordability, to the development of new
technologies, to the issues of security at our facilities, and
more. Fortunately, this administration is comprised of many
individuals with incredible expertise in these areas, and I look
forward to helping the president-elect to effectively address these
challenges in the days ahead."
Although the title of energy secretary appears to carry a lot of
weight, this actually has not been the case since the Cabinet-level
post was formed in 1977. Its actual mission is to "foster a secure
and reliable energy system that is environmentally and economically
sustainable, to be a responsible steward of the nation's nuclear
weapons, to clean up our own facilities and to support continued
U.S. leadership in science and technology."
For instance, current Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has been
caught up in nuclear safety at facilities in New Mexico along with
many nuclear waste depository issues. However, the energy
secretary's role may evolve and take on greater importance in the
Sen. Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and
Natural Resources, called Abraham's selection "great," and said
"The Energy Department is a difficult one to manage, but I have
every confidence that Sen. Abraham is up to the job." Murkowski has
been critical of the lack of an energy policy in the Clinton
administration, and has been working on an energy package to send
to Congress in the new session.
Saying he will give Abraham his support and confidence, Sen.
Murkowski said, "I look forward to working with the new
administration and with the new secretary to produce an energy
policy that maintains a balanced use of all our resources while
working on conservation and moving to alternative fuels and
Skip Horvath, president of the Natural Gas Supply Association
(NGSA), said he thought Bush's selection of Abraham for DOE was a
good pick. "I think he's going to be good. He comes from a state
[Michigan] that is an energy-producing state, so he understands the
producing issues pretty well," he said. In addition to producers,
"his state really represents all of the other interests of the
natural gas industry" --- distribution, pipelines and storage.
Besides working to repeal the Energy Department when he was a
Senator, Abraham has not been directly involved in energy issues,
either with his work as a U.S. senator or before then. He was the
first Michigan Republican elected to the Senate in 22 years. In his
one Senate term, he served on the Senate's Budget Committee as well
as the Judiciary Committee, where he chaired the subcommittee on
immigration. He also served on the Commerce, Science and
Transportation Committee where he chaired the subcommittee on
manufacturing and competitiveness. He also was a member of the
Small Business Committee.
Along with his Senate committee assignments, Abraham was a
member of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control and
was on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
In his sparse energy-related voting record, Abraham voted
against keeping automobile fuel efficiency standards in September
1999, a vote not surprising considering he represented the largest
automobile-manufacturing state in the country. He also voted yes on
more funding for forest roads and fish habitat (September 1999);
defunding renewable and solar energy (June 1999); transportation
demonstration projects (March 1998); and approving a nuclear waste
depository (April 1997).
A Michigan native, Abraham attended Michigan State University
and then Harvard Law School, where he founded the Federalist
Society and a conservative law journal. At 30, he became a
Republican state chairman, and then in 1990, he joined former
President George Bush's administration as deputy chief of staff to
former Vice President Dan Quayle.
Abraham favors many of the things his potential new boss favors:
free trade, opening ANWR and doing away with many environmental
regulations. Last summer, while calling for a suspension of federal
gas taxes as prices rose across the Midwest, Abraham took donations
from several energy companies for his November re-election bid.
According to campaign finance watchdog FECInfo, Abraham had
$221,848 in contributions from several energy companies, including
$10,000 from El Paso Energy Corp.; $10,000 from Ohio Valley Coal
Co.; and $9,000 each from Chevron, Coastal Corp. and Michigan
For the Sierra Club, Abraham's appointment would further add to
what it expects will be a hostile environment for natural
resources' issues. Sierra Club's Daniel F. Becker, director of its
global warming and energy program, said Abraham had received the
Club's lowest rating on environmental issues in the last Congress.
Horvath disagreed with critics of Bush's choice for DOE, many
whom cited the former senator's lack of direct experience with
energy issues. "Somebody from Michigan has energy experience by
definition because his state has all the components of the natural
gas industry" within its boundaries, he said. "So we think he's
pretty well rounded."
Whatever the criticism, it's clear that Harvard Law School grad
Abraham has taken a post in a troubled department that many others
did not want. With its burgeoning agenda --- keeping track of the
U.S.'s weapons laboratories, cleaning up nuclear waste sites and
managing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the next Energy chief
will have a full plate with extra helpings on the side.
The next energy secretary faces the new challenges of dealing
with electricity shortages and energy shortfalls, as well as
efforts among OPEC nations to keep the oil prices high. And
Abraham, or whoever takes the hot seat, will face the same
controversies the Interior chief will on the prospects of opening
up ANWR to oil and gas development and finding energy solutions for
the entire country amid a nearly deadlocked and potentially
Carolyn Davis, Houston