‘Tenacious’ Pombo’s portrait to look over committee

By Robin Bravender | 07/29/2015 07:19 AM EDT

Richard Pombo — an ex-congressman adored by industry and reviled by greens — will now loom large over the House Natural Resources Committee’s hearing room.

Richard Pombo — an ex-congressman adored by industry and reviled by greens — will now loom large over the House Natural Resources Committee’s hearing room.

The portrait of the former California GOP lawmaker, who led the committee for a stint during the George W. Bush administration, was unveiled last night in a ceremony in the Longworth House Office Building. Pombo’s likeness will join those of a host of other former chairmen adorning the room.

GOP lawmakers and former Pombo staffers were among the dozens of people who gathered last night at the ceremonial unveiling. Attendants were treated to beer and California wine and hors d’oeuvres including meatballs, chicken skewers and egg rolls.

Pombo portrait
Former House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) at the unveiling of his official portrait on Capitol Hill last night. | Photo by Elizabeth Farnsworth.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) recalled Pombo being "tenacious" when he was first running for Congress.

"He won the seat and got here and was just as tenacious," Boehner said. Even as Pombo was preparing to leave the House, Boehner recalled, "He was going out the door, and here he was on the floor of the House pushing for drilling on the outer continental shelf." Some of his colleagues were packing up, but "not Pombo, he’s still pushing until the last moment."

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, remembered getting a call from Pombo a few months into his first term as a congressman. Pombo rang Nunes at home and said he needed to join a trip to Alaska.

When Nunes got on the plane, he realized it was "me, the lady from Guam, [Montana GOP Rep.] Denny Rehberg and like nobody else." They landed on Alaska’s North Slope and the tires had frozen, Nunes said. That was a testament to Pombo’s commitment, he added. "Nobody wanted to go up there, but you were willing to go up there. You conducted real hearings, made the point."

Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) also praised his former colleague, joking, "You have to be nice to me because I still get to decide where this is actually hung."

Reflecting on his tenure yesterday, Pombo said, "We went to war over this. We knew going in we were outmanned, we were outgunned, but we were going to fight and we were going to do what was right."

Pombo wanted the portrait to be casual, he said, "because that’s me." Perched on the edge of a desk, Pombo sports a button-down shirt without a tie and has a hat in hand. Featured with him in the portrait are longhorns, the Shasta Dam, a logging truck, an oil rig and a blanket that was given to him by a tribal chairman.

"To me, that embodies what the committee was and it embodies all the work that we did over the years," he said.

Pombo was elected to Congress in 1992 and held the gavel of the Natural Resources panel (then known as the Resources Committee) from 2003 until he was ousted in the 2006 election.

Green groups were central in the effort to defeat Pombo in 2006. Environmentalists waged attacks on the industry champion, and he lost his seat to Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.).

While in Congress, Pombo enraged conservationists by proposing legislation to sell roughly a quarter of the land managed by the National Park Service, pushing to loosen restrictions on the sale of federal lands to mining companies, backing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and attempting to amend the Endangered Species Act. The Sierra Club dubbed him an "eco-thug."

He was also accused of billing the federal government for family travels to national parks and was tied to disgraced former D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Pombo is now a partner at D.C. lobbying firm Gavel Resources LLC, where his clients include Xcel Energy Inc., the Northern California Power Agency and Cadiz Inc., a California-based land and water resource development company, according to public disclosures.

He previously lobbied for Sellery Associates Inc. after losing a bid to return to Congress in 2010 (E&E Daily, June 27, 2012).

Pombo’s portrait hanging comes as lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have attempted to halt the practice of using taxpayer cash to fund expensive portraits of government officials. The professional paintings can be pricey — often topping $20,000. But the government doesn’t pay for portraits of House chairmen. Instead, it’s common for lobbyists and undisclosed private donors to chip in for the paintings.