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Horvath Tapped to Guide NGSA Out of Dark

Horvath Tapped to Guide NGSA Out of Dark

A former pipeline lobbyist has been tapped to steer the Natural Gas Supply Association (NGSA) back on course following the scandal in which its former president, Nicholas J. Bush, allegedly swindled it out of about $2.8 million.

J. Skip Horvath, who left the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America in February after 16 years with the group, was unanimously endorsed as NGSA's new president by its board of directors. He is expected to assume the position, which has been vacant for almost four months, on Aug. 1.-after he liquidates his Virginia-based consulting firm, OnEnergy.

Until then, Horvath said he doesn't intend to turn a "blind eye" to the association, which represents major producers. "I will be helping out" in the interim so "I will [be able to] hit the ground running" in August, he told reporters during a press briefing at NGSA's headquarters yesterday.

NGSA Chairman Richard J. Sharples said Horvath was selected from a pool of about 30 candidates because his "values" coincided with those of the association's. "The fact that we were able to get somebody that is well rounded and well known in [Washington D.C.] was an...added benefit." "He knows the issues...he knows the policymakers; he knows the folks on the Hill. I think he brings tremendous credibility to our association."

One veteran industry observer commented NGSA had made a good choice. "Skip is intelligent, knows the industry well and has always been accessible and willing to discuss the issues. He has credibility."

Horvath conceded that at first he had "some skepticism" about whether he would be able to make the transition from a pipeline association to a producer association, but that quickly vanished. Given his 20 years experience in the gas industry, "getting my mind around different positions is not a stretch," he said. Also, "you have to remember that the association is an industry [unto] itself...If you can run one, you can run another. And that's the set of skills I'm bringing over [to NGSA], not policy positions."

He said he accepted the position because he was "tremendously impressed" with the NGSA board's "resolve to remain strong, to remain an organization that speaks...for major natural gas producers" in spite of problems created by the alleged fraud activity of its former president. "I would not have taken this job had I thought there was even a reasonable chance that they might be absorbed elsewhere, or go away...They are around for the long haul, and I'm around here with them," he noted.

Horvath admitted his new job won't be easy thanks to the legacy left behind by Bush, who now faces criminal mail fraud and tax evasion charges and is the target of an NGSA civil lawsuit to recover the stolen funds. "There's no doubt this is a challenge-to look at the association, assess it in light of what happened and move forward...There's some baggage to it that I have to be conscious of all the time. But the point is we are moving forward. There won't be much looking behind once I get on board."

One of Horvath's tasks will be improving the effectiveness of NGSA's lobbying activities on Capitol Hill and at FERC, which Sharples conceded has been somewhat undermined in the wake of Bush's alleged fraud.

Horvath spoke of plans for a "new NGSA" under his leadership. "Like any great shift, [this] will come gradually...I can tell you that there is an openness at the NGSA...board to re-think the way they do things in Washington, the way they do things in the industry," he told reporters. He couldn't say what the new NGSA would look like down the road, but it will have three themes: 1) collaborative-the producer group will reach out to other gas associations and industry sectors "in a way we haven't done before, to try to build a [few] more bridges and work together on the issues;" 2) a greater focus on public policy to enable regulators to do their job better; and 3) will place the decision-making authority with respect to NGSA policy in the hands of business people rather than regulatory attorneys. Horvath, in effect, wants to call a truce to the "warfare" between industry associations. "I hold that as a goal. Whether I achieve it or not remains to be seen."

Sharples, too, had an optimistic outlook for the association. "This may come as a surprise to you, but in my 15 years with NGSA I believe the association is the strongest today it's ever been. There's unqualified support [from] our members that NGSA is their voice on natural gas market issues." And although NGSA is in the midst of a lawsuit to recover millions that were embezzled from the group, he said it's in good shape financially. "Actually, we're stronger financially than we've been in a number of years. We have great support from our members in terms of the dues base. They're all paid up."

All questions concerning NGSA's civil lawsuit against Bush were off-limits to reporters. "This issue is a legal matter, and it needs to run its legal course," Sharples said. He noted, however, that NGSA has enacted some changes to its internal controls to prevent a recurrence of fraud,

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