Some familiar faces from the George W. Bush administration energy circles are eager to help their former boss’s brother clinch the White House.
As Jeb Bush tests the waters for a 2016 presidential run, top energy officials from the last Bush administration are ready to pitch in if they can. Some have already offered to help, others say they’ll be there if they’re asked, and many others are expected to jump on board to offer their expertise during a possible campaign or administration.
"It’ll be a unitary thing. Every former Bush energy environment person is going to wind up signing up for that campaign," said Mike McKenna, a GOP energy strategist. "They’re just waiting to be asked."
The former Florida governor — who hasn’t yet officially launched a campaign for the White House — is also expected to draw upon some energy allies from his own political career. But when it comes to getting help on nitty-gritty energy policy issues, ranging from air pollution regulations to international energy policy, many of the best-known GOP experts are people who already worked for Bush’s brother in the last Republican presidential administration, and Jeb Bush is widely expected to capitalize on those family ties.
Bush has already reached out to C. Boyden Gray, an energy and environment expert who held top posts in both the George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush administrations.
"I’ve talked to people in his campaign, and I’ve talked to him," said Gray. "I think he’s made phone calls — hundreds, probably — to tell people that he is thinking seriously about running and would they be willing to help."
Bush asked Gray to advise him, but not on energy issues specifically, Gray said. "He hasn’t announced, so there’s really nothing on the screen yet."
Bud Albright, a top Energy Department official during the George W. Bush administration, said, "Jeb Bush would make an excellent president, and should he need my help, I’ll be there." Albright, who is now a lobbyist at Ogilvy Government Relations, added that he hasn’t "really engaged yet in the presidential race" and isn’t sure where other former officials from the Bush 43 energy team might end up.
When rounding up energy allies in Washington, D.C., it might be tough for Bush to avoid turning to experts who worked for his brother or his father, even if he wanted to. When Bush unveiled his list of 21 foreign policy advisers last month, 19 of them had worked in a previous Bush administration, The Washington Post reported.
But while there may be an early groundswell for Bush among former GOP administration officials, they’re not necessarily ruling out supporting other candidates.
There’s "a certain amount of loyalty to the Bush family," said a former George W. Bush administration senior energy official.
"Ultimately, I think if you asked me now, would I be a Jeb Bush guy, I’d be a Jeb Bush guy," the former official said. But when it comes to the rest of the GOP field, "There are a lot of smart guys out there that I have a lot of respect for. … You want all those guys to have good policy platforms.
"If someone picked up the phone and called, I would be happy to give policy advice to any of the reasonable candidates."
‘He’s basically conservative’
Energy insiders say it’s still early to gauge how the former Florida governor’s environmental policies would shape up if he became a presidential candidate.
"His general philosophy is he’s a conservative; he’s basically conservative, and his message is basically conservative," said Gray. "And he hasn’t been more specific really than that."
When it comes to being pragmatic on environmental issues, "I don’t know that I would distinguish that much between the father, the brother and Jeb," said the former George W. Bush administration energy official. "I don’t think that there would be enough distinction on those issues that would cause people not to be interested in Jeb."
Bush’s views on climate change haven’t been particularly clear in recent years. "I think global warming may be real," he told Fox News in a 2011 interview. "It is not unanimous among scientists that it is disproportionately man-made."
Asked in 2009 whether he believes global warming is primarily man-made, Bush told Esquire, "I’m a skeptic. I’m not a scientist.
"I think the science has been politicized. I would be very wary of hollowing out our industrial base even further … I think we need to be very cautious before we dramatically alter who we are as a nation because of it."
Still, Bush built up fairly good rapport with at least some environmentalists during his time as Florida’s governor, and some expect him to take a moderate stance on energy and environmental issues if he wins the presidency.
Said GOP energy strategist McKenna, "If there was ever a Republican president who would sign a climate bill, it would be Jeb."
Some greens who were active in Florida during Bush’s tenure lauded his efforts on Everglades restoration, habitat preservation and other priorities for environmentalists in the Sunshine State.
"I think you would say he had a pretty strong record," said Stuart Stahl, former president and CEO of the Audubon Society of Florida. "I think he is very upfront with the press and with people about what his values are. He believes that the environment is a conservative ideal."
If elected, Bush "may help us to end this ridiculous conflict we have between the business community and environmental protection," said Eric Draper, the current executive director of Audubon Florida.
"It could be that to deal with a complicated issue like climate change, we need a pro-growth, business-oriented tough guy," Draper added. "No one’s going to think that if Jeb Bush is solving our energy and climate problems, he was doing it just because it felt good."
But not all Florida greens have a positive impression of Bush’s legacy leading the state.
"Like many Republicans, he had kind of an anti-tax, anti-regulatory view of the world and certainly was a pro-growth booster," Draper said.
Names in the mix
Here are some of the former Bush administration energy insiders seen as likely candidates to be tapped for campaign advice or even as contenders for posts in a possible Jeb Bush administration:
C. Boyden Gray: Under the George W. Bush administration, Gray held top international posts; he was the U.S. representative to the European Union and special envoy for Eurasian energy. He was also counsel to George H.W. Bush during both his presidency and vice presidency. He’s now a founding partner at D.C.-based Boyden Gray & Associates, a law and regulatory strategy firm.
"I suppose you could say I’m a Bush supporter," Gray said, noting that it’s still very early in the campaign cycle. "A lot of people have very open minds, and I hope and think that those who haven’t made up their minds will gravitate toward Bush."
Jim Connaughton: George W. Bush’s longtime top environmental adviser is widely cited as a possible key energy ally for Jeb Bush. Connaughton from 2001 to 2009 was chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, where he had a big influence over the administration’s energy and environmental policies. He has since worked as an executive at Baltimore-based Constellation Energy, at Exelon and at C3 Energy in Redwood City, Calif. Connaughton advised Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and was thought to have had the inside track for a top administration position if Romney had won.
Jeff Holmstead: The former Bush-era EPA air official could be another important confidant to a 2016 Bush campaign. Holmstead headed U.S. EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation from 2001 until 2005 and served as associate counsel to the president during the George H.W. Bush administration. Holmstead now leads Bracewell & Giuliani’s environmental strategies group, where he lobbies on behalf of heavyweight energy firms. Holmstead was also rumored to be in the running for a top environmental post under Romney (Greenwire, Oct. 18, 2012).
Roger Martella: Former EPA top attorney Martella could also be called upon for his expertise. He was EPA’s general counsel from 2006 until 2008, after almost seven years in the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. He now helps lead Sidley Austin’s environmental practice, where he counsels a range of companies on energy and environmental issues.
Marcus Peacock: Peacock held top posts at EPA and the White House budget office during the George W. Bush administration. He was EPA’s deputy administrator from 2005 until 2009, and was previously associate director of natural resource programs at the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 until 2005. He stepped back from government work in 2013 after working as GOP staff director for the Senate Budget Committee, but energy insiders say he’s someone who could return to federal service to advise or work for another Bush administration.
Bud Albright: Albright was a George W. Bush administration undersecretary at the Energy Department from 2007 until 2009, after working for several years as staff director to the House Energy and Commerce Committee under then-Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas). After the Bush administration, Albright was senior vice president for policy and government relations at CenterPoint Energy; he signed on last year with D.C. lobbying firm Ogilvy Government Relations.
Kevin O’Donovan: The former domestic policy adviser to then-Vice President Dick Cheney worked on climate change and energy policy issues during the Bush administration. He went on to work as a lobbyist for Shell Oil Co. and now runs his own firm, O’Donovan Strategies LLC, where he has lobbied on energy and conservation issues.
F. Chase Hutto: Hutto got his start in the Bush administration as a senior policy adviser to then-Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. He later worked as director for international and energy security on the White House National Security Council and went on to become a senior aide to then-Vice President Cheney. He has been managing director at ClearView Energy Partners LLC since 2009.
Marty Hall: The former CEQ chief of staff worked under Connaughton in the White House environmental shop. He had previously been a top staffer on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee under then-Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.). Hall joined FirstEnergy Corp. in 2009 as vice president of federal affairs and energy policy.
Karen Knutson: Another former energy policy aide to then-Vice President Cheney, Knutson was deputy director of Cheney’s energy task force. She was chief of staff to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) from 2007 until 2011, and was a lobbyist at the William Koch-owned company Oxbow Corp. until earlier this year. She’s now government affairs and policy leader at GE Oil & Gas, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Karen Harbert: The former Bush-era Energy Department aide is now heading up the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s energy policy shop, the Institute for 21st Century Energy. Harbert was assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at DOE from 2004 until 2008 before moving to the chamber.
Mike Catanzaro: Catanzaro was deputy policy director for the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign before working at CEQ as associate director for policy and as EPA associate deputy administrator during the Bush administration. He was later the deputy GOP staff director on the Environment and Public Works Committee under Inhofe, a policy adviser to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and a managing director at FTI Consulting. He’s now an energy lobbyist at Clark, Geduldig, Cranford & Nielsen.