Q&A

Mike McKenna on DOE budget, Rick Perry, executive orders

Mike McKenna isn't embarrassed by anything.

The outspoken Republican lobbyist has long been a fixture on the Washington energy scene, and he's known for offering his opinions in a policy world where operators are often publicly cautious and buttoned up.

McKenna, 54, led the Trump administration's Energy Department transition team for several months last year before then-President-elect Trump announced that lobbyists would be required to deregister. McKenna represents heavy-hitting clients like Southern Co., Dow Chemical Co. and others from the firm he founded, MWR Strategies. His LinkedIn profile calls him owner and "czar" of the firm.

He recently chatted with E&E News about the impacts of the administration's lobbying ban, changes coming for DOE and his affinity for New York sports teams.

Broadly, what kinds of changes are you expecting to see at DOE under Trump?

There's probably going to be a reorientation of research toward more basic research, less commercialization. ... There's going to be a rebalancing in the energy research accounts between the three civilian offices. ... There's going to be steady downward budget pressure. That would have been true no matter who the president was.

How do you expect Rick Perry to lead that agency?

One thing about Governor Perry — Secretary Perry — is, he's a really good manager. He's comfortable with large organizations, he's run the state government of Texas. ... It's a great big giant enterprise sprawling across a lot of facilities and a lot of square miles. It sounds just like the DOE complex. So I think he's going to bring a good solid management culture to the place. ... I think he's going to try to line up dollars, priorities, stuff that needs to get done, and he's going to follow through on it.

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What other big energy announcements are you expecting from Trump in the near future?

I'm not sure what announcements we're going to get from the president himself. Obviously the Clean Power Plan, the disposition of the Paris Agreement.

You think a Paris order is still coming?

I don't know. I hope so. Let's put it this way: I think it would be a fairly significant mistake just to assume that Paris is going to go away of its own accord. ... [I'm also expecting] something on coal leasing. I anticipate the administration's going to do something on the social cost of carbon. Whether they announce it or not, I have no earthly idea.

Do you expect Congress to go along with the big budget cuts proposed by the administration?

It's always an opening number, a negotiation. Even inside the administration, the reason why it's called guidance is because it's guidance. ... Are we going to wind up with those numbers? It seems unlikely. ... Are we going to wind up with — let's just throw out a hypothetical number — are we going to wind up with 15 percent budget reductions? No. Are we going to wind up with 2 or 3 percent reductions? Maybe.

Do you think the administration's lobbying restrictions have limited the talent pool?

Yes. The bottom line is, it's difficult to ask people, 'I want you to spend three years in an administration and then you take five years off.' ... The people you'd want very much the most, the highest performers, are the ones least inclined to do it because they're the ones who are currently either making the most money or have the potential to make the most money, so it's a problem. Is it going to impair people's ability to recruit the kind of people you want? It definitely is.

Do you expect to see major energy legislation in the next four years?

God, I hope not. Any time we have energy legislation, something really terrible happens. ... Basically, any time Congress gets involved in energy policy, something always goes bad. So the best answer is, just stay out of the way. Don't do anything, don't make any trouble, don't get any great big ideas about how the world needs to be changed.

Isn't the alternative executive action that can be reversed?

I'm perfectly comfortable with muddling through. I really am. Because I've seen the alternative. ... When Congress gets into things, they tend to take what might be a small problem and make it a big problem.

What are you reading right now?

"Hillbilly Elegy." [By J.D. Vance]. It's a book built around one family's dissolution that makes larger points about the social dissolution in the white working and underclass in essentially Appalachia.

Do you have any nicknames?

Everyone calls me by my last name. Even my own mother calls me by my last name.

Do you have any pets?

No. Yeah, my three kids.

What's the most embarrassing thing about you that you'd be willing to share?

I'm not embarrassed about anything.

What's your favorite beverage?

Diet Cheerwine.

What are your favorite sports teams?

Yankees, Giants, Rangers.

Where were you born?

New York City. Born in Queens. Grew up in the Bronx.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Twitter: @rbravender Email: rbravender@eenews.net

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