By Kennedy Maize
The quadrennial Washington name game is underway, the whispered rumors and guesses, seldom well informed but promulgated with confidence, over whom the incoming administration will name to its policy and managerial team. For the nascent Trump administration, which has evinced little beyond large pronouncements about energy and environmental policy, establishing the veracity of the rumors – often self-serving and frequently design to mislead – is difficult.
Nevertheless, we will play that game.
Names for key energy and environmental posts – all requiring Senate confirmation – started swirling through Washington’s political spin cycle as soon as it became clear that Trump would be the next president and the Senate and the House would remain in the grip of the GOP.
Here are the names I’ve come across, in alphabetic order, with my guess as the odds of appointment. My estimate of probabilities is purely from my gut, with no analytics as backstop. I have not included those in the rumor mill that I consider to have less than a 1% shot at a nomination. But I would not be surprised if any or all of the nominees are not on this list, or that those I have excluded are.
• Jan Brewer, 72, former Republican governor of Arizona, may be in line to become Interior secretary, which has often been in the hands of a Western state politician, regardless of party. She’s a hard-right conservative Obama foe who backed Trump from his early days. That’s in contrast with Arizona’s two Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, who dumped on Trump from the start. Odds: 50%.
• Neil Chatterjee, 39, rumored to be a Federal Energy Regulation Commission pick. He has been a chief energy staffer to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and was a lobbyist for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, trade group for consumer-owned electric utilities. Chatterjee has been a lead figure in McConnell’s battle against the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. When it comes to filling the vacant and soon-to-be vacant FERC seats, it’s important to understand that it won’t really be Trump who is picking the appointments. It’s unlikely Trump has any knowledge of the commission and may not even be able to spell FERC. McConnell could move a Chatterjee nomination to one of two vacant Republican seats during the coming lame duck session. Then Trump could immediately designate him chairman. Kudos to Hannah Northey at E&E News for surfacing Chatterjee’s name. Odds: 60 %.
• James Connaughton, 55, rumored for Energy. An energy lawyer, he was chairman of the George W. Bush administration’s Council on Environment Quality (a position that required Senate confirmation), then an executive with Constellation Energy, and then several high-tech jobs after that. Odds: 5%, as no one with ties to either Bush administration is likely to land a key job in the Trump administration.
• Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), 55, for Energy. He was Trump’s energy advisor during the campaign. Cramer is a hard-right conservative and advocate of oil and gas policies that benefit his home state. He’s also an upfront climate change skeptic. Cramer was a member of the North Dakota Public Service Commission from 2003 to 2012, but has evidenced a sketchy understanding of the fundamentals of electricity or energy policy. He said in a debate that electricity is a flow of “neurons” and that the Paris climate agreement is “another bad trade deal.” Neither is close to accurate. Odds: 50%.
• Myron Ebell, suggested for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. He’s a long-time global warming skeptic at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based conservative think tank. Ebell has been involved in the contentious climate debate for more than two decades, and is a mild-mannered but well-informed advocate. Trump named him to head the EPA transition team, which caused outrage among many environmentalists. There is little evidence that Ebell has the managerial or political chops to run a major agency, particularly if his marching orders are to blow it up. Odds: 10%.
• Robert Grady, 59, rumored for Energy, Interior, or EPA. Grady is a partner at Gryphon Investors, a private equity fund, with private equity experience in other firms, including Carlyle Group, the private equity behemoth (with Democratic Party ties through founder David Rubenstein) located in Washington, D.C. A New Jersey native, Grady served as an aide to liberal Jersey Republican Rep. Millicent Fenwick and to Republican Gov. Thomas Kean. He also served as the energy and natural resources chief in the George H.W. Bush administration’s Office of Management and Budget and in other Bush White House positions, where he was a key player in the 1990 rewrite of the Clean Air Act. More recently, he’s been an advisor to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Odds of his selection for any cabinet position: 5%, because of his ties to both the Bush family and Christie, both of which are likely toxic.
• Harold Hamm, 70, CEO of oil and gas producer Continental Resources, a multi-billionaire mentioned both for Interior and Energy. Hamm, an Oklahoman who made his billions in North Dakota’s Bakken field through fracking technology, was an energy advisor to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Reuters reported that Hamm has been a Trump advisor since May, and he spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. Odds: 40%.
• Richard Lehfeldt, 64, rumored for a vacant Republican seat at FERC. A partner in the large energy practice at the Washington law firm of Crowell & Moring, Lehfeldt was also an executive with TECO Energy in Tampa, Fla., and Edison Mission Energy in California. Lehfeldt was former counsel and key player for the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s energy and power subcommittee when Congress was passing major energy legislation in the 1990s. Odds: 5%.
• Forrest Lucas, 74, rumored for Interior. He is president of Lucas Oil Resources, an oil and gas company with a high local profile in Indiana, where the football stadium of the Indianapolis Colts is named Lucas Oil Stadium. According to Politico, he is close to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, former governor of Indiana and a prominent Republican member of Congress before the election. Odds: 50%
• Bill Marsan, 51, rumored for FERC. He’s executive vice president and general counsel at American Transmission Co. in Waukesha, Wis., a merchant electric transmission developer, and former executive with Indianapolis Power & Light. He was a top aide for former Republican Rep. Charles Canady of Florida, who served three terms and is now a justice on the Florida Supreme Court. Canady was Gov. Jeb Bush’s general counsel in 2001-2002. Odds: 1%, based on the Bush connection.
• Sarah Palin, 52, rumored for Interior. Remember Sarah? John McCain’s shoot-from-the-lip Veep running mate in 2008, former Alaska governor, from 2006-2009, and a right-wing gadfly and news commentator since, was an early Trump supporter. She’s a darling of the natural resources conservatives and Tea Party crowd and has familiarity with federal Interior Department land use and energy policies and activities, as Uncle Sam is the largest landlord in the state. Odds: 25%.
That’s it. That’s the list (so far).
Among those who have gotten mentions, but who I believe have less than 1% chances: Janet Sena, the long-time Washington lobbyist for the North American Electric Reliability Council, rumored for FERC. She has prior experience at TECO Energy and Edison Mission Energy (see Richard Lehfeldt), but with no identified ties to Trump or important congressional Republicans. Also, Kenneth Minesinger, a prominent energy lawyer at Greenberg Traurig in Washington, rumored for FERC. He’s a prominent and successful pipeline lawyer with no clear political godfather to advance his case.
As time passes and the new administration makes its personnel choices known, it will be interesting to see whether the Washington rumor mill and the name game produce valuable information or simply the early chaos of a presidential transition.