Energy lobbyist leaves DOE landing team

By Robin Bravender | 11/18/2016 01:33 PM EST

Mike McKenna, an energy lobbyist who has been leading President-elect Donald Trump’s Energy Department transition team for months, has left that post.

Mike McKenna, an energy lobbyist who has been leading President-elect Donald Trump’s Energy Department transition team for months, has left that post.

"Although I have reluctantly decided that I cannot continue on the transition in an official capacity, I am excited about continuing to work to make America great again," McKenna said today in a statement.

"I am very grateful to the Trump Transition Team for the opportunity to work with them and for America. The transition team is comprised of some of the finest people our Nation has. Over these last few months, I have been proud to play a small part in getting the Trump Administration ready to make the changes the federal government needs. I am especially proud of the excellent work of my colleagues working on the Energy Team," he added.


McKenna’s departure comes after the Trump transition team announced that members of the so-called agency landing teams would be required to de-register as lobbyists before heading into agency offices. The DOE team is expected to enter the building next week. Those working in the Trump administration will be banned from lobbying for five years after leaving office.

"This lobbying ban has really upset the apple cart," said a source close to the transition.

Other top energy and environmental staffers — Mike Catanzaro and Myron Ebell — remain on the team, working on energy policy and heading U.S. EPA’s transition team, respectively, that source said. Catanzaro has been a registered lobbyist at CGCN Group; Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute is not a registered lobbyist. It’s unclear whether Catanzaro has de-registered or plans to, or whether either of them will go on to work in the Trump administration after the transition.

McKenna, the president of MWR Strategies, is well-known in Republican energy circles. He was director of policy and external affairs for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality under then-Gov. George Allen (R) and was an external relations specialist at the Energy Department during the George H.W. Bush administration.

His lobbying clients in 2016 include Koch Cos. Public Sector LLC, Southern Co. Services, Dow Chemical Co. and Competitive Power Ventures Inc., according to public disclosures.

It’s unclear who will step in as the head of DOE’s transition team. The Trump transition press office did not respond to a request for comment.

Clean Power Plan ‘dead’; Paris an ‘annoyance’

In an interview aired today on RealClearEnergy, McKenna spoke broadly about how the incoming Trump administration might move quickly to unravel the Obama administration’s energy and environmental policies.

Mike McKenna
Mike McKenna. | Photo special to E&E News.

Of the Clean Power Plan to cut power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions, McKenna said, "I think there’s a bunch of different ways to scrap the plan." A legal fight over that rule is now playing out in court.

The Trump team could simply drop an "appeal to the Supreme Court and take the lower court ruling," or "delay implementation" until a new rule is written, McKenna said. "There’s all kinds of different ways to go at it," he said. "But it’s dead, and if you’re a utility or a state thinking about that, even if a Democratic administration comes in in 2021, as a practical matter, it means you’re looking at compliance dates way in the out years, 2032, ’35."

As for the Paris climate deal, McKenna said, Trump has options, too.

"You could give it to the Senate and let them hash it out as a treaty. You could try to withdraw your signature. You could do an executive order that withdraws your signature so that you remove any question about whether it binds the United States. But the right answer in a non-legally binding situation like Paris and the right answer on that option list is do nothing, and I expect that’s what the Trump administration is ultimately going to chose to do with Paris is do nothing, ignore it, pay no attention to it. Just treat it as an annoyance that comes around every year or so."

The Trump team will also be carefully scrutinizing Obama administration rules that haven’t yet been fully implemented or finalized, he said.

For rules that are already finalized and where implementation is ongoing, he said, "that’s probably closed," in terms of repeal. But other rules — like the ozone standard that hasn’t yet been implemented, and those pending finalization — "are very much live questions," he said.

The Clean Power Plan and EPA’s Clean Water Rule will be at the "top of the list" for rollbacks, he added.

The Trump team will also be looking to revisit executive orders.

"A lot of the government exists on executive orders that get re-upped from one president to another," McKenna said. Unraveling those executive orders could have implications for the Keystone XL pipeline, which President Obama rejected.

"Lyndon Johnson coughed up an executive order that said in circumstances in which pipelines cross international boundaries, the State Department has approval rights," he said. "George Bush re-ups that. Nobody thinks about Keystone, but we wind up talking about Keystone. That’s an executive order that’s spread now across 50 years, probably deserves a couple minutes of thought."