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Romney’s Energy Advisors All Used To Work For Bush. Is That Good Or Bad?

[guest post from Molly Redden]

On Monday, Politico published a brief write-up of Mitt Romney’s informal team of energy advisers. All four that were named happen to be former George W. Bush officials, and there are a number of ways their pasts could dog Romney. Bush’s record may have frustrated environmentalists, but these officials have made statements supporting a cap-and-trade system for certain pollutants, or oversaw federal initiatives to subsidize clean energy technology—ideas that approach treason among today’s GOPers. On the other hand, picking up advisers from the Bush era provides an easy opportunity for liberals to go after Romney for being anything but “moderate” on the environment. And following a strategic victory on the Keystone XL pipeline, the reinvigorated green community is on the lookout for places to redirect its political capital.

So who’s shaping Romney’s thoughts on energy and the environment? And how might they get him in trouble? Here’s a more complete breakdown.

James Connaughton, the most accomplished person on Romney’s budding energy team, was head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality for eight years under George W. Bush. In his former capacity, he was party to many decisions that the unflinchingly anti-regulation wing of today’s Republican party would likely balk at. For example, he supported and implemented modest cap-and-trade programs for pollutants like SO2, NOx, and mercury, praising such schemes as “one of the best tools for efficient performance.” According to his archived White House profile, Connaughton also coordinated “comprehensive climate change strategy, clean technology initiatives, [and] environmental cooperation agreements with our free trade partners”—not exactly today’s GOP watchwords.

Of course, none of those duties made Connaughton a darling of the green community. Indeed, Connaughton was often a focal point of environmentalists’ frustration, and he played a role in a few of the administration’s bigger environmental scandals. For example, when the EPA’s Inspector General investigated statements released by the agency in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, she found Connaughton’s office had pressured the EPA into releasing untruthful, rosy assessments of New York City’s air quality. At his office’s insistence, the EPA deleted cautionary statements from their PSAs, such as “guidance for cleaning indoor spaces and tips on potential health effects from airborne dust containing asbestos, lead, glass fibers and concrete,” according to an AP story.

Andy Karsner was the Assistant Energy Secretary for Bush. At the Department of Energy, he oversaw a budget that sometimes exceeded $1.5 billion for federally funded research, development, and market integration of renewable energy sources. And before joining the administration, he led his private company “to win a global competition to develop the world's largest private wind farm outside the United States at that time,” according to his archived White House biography. In the wake of Solyndra, Karsner’s resume hardly seems to fit with the attitudes of many in the GOP, who are resoundingly against federal support for renewables and scientific research, with a few even vocally against renewables, period.

Jeff Holmstead was the EPA air chief for Bush and he’s now a lobbyist for large energy utilities. But guess what you can find on the first page of his Google results? Testimony before the senate in which he says, “An appropriate, well-designed cap and trade program will create incentives to stimulate investment in clean energy technologies, while ensuring that American consumers can still pay their electricity bills.” Of course, Holmstead wasn’t talking about CO2. Like Connaughton, he was talking about the administration’s proposals for curbing SO2, NOx, and mercury, but it’s doubtful that would stop Romney’s GOP opponents from including the quote on a nasty mailer. He is also the self-proclaimed architect of “key parts” of Bush’s climate change initiative and his clean air interstate rule, a predecessor—albeit a weak and vague one that was invalidated by the judiciary—to the current EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, against which Rand Paul has led a virulent campaign in the senate. Of course, Holmstead isn’t a welcome name to environmentalists, either. In response to Politico’s article, a Grist blogger despaired that Holmstead has made it his life’s work to “cripple the EPA and block its new rules,” both as an EPA appointee and as a lobbyist.

Edward Krenik, the former EPA congressional affairs liaison, became a top lobbyist at the same K Street lobbying firm as Holmstead, cementing, in many environmentalists’ eyes, his credentials as an anti-regulatory scoundrel. Nonetheless, he helped craft the ultimately unsuccessful legislative strategy for the Clear Skies Act, which aimed to implement cap-and-trade programs for NOx, SO2, and mercury emissions from power plants.

Molly Redden is a reporter-researcher for The New Republic.