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Election-year maneuvering probably means a dead end for bold proposals to revamp energy policy: Democrats are ready to thwart Republican plans to promote domestic fossil-fuel production, while the GOP is prepared to stop Democratic plans to boost renewable fuels. Still, both the “go green” and “drill, baby, drill” camps see hope for some subtle shifts at the policymaking margins.
Apostolou may be the only tripartisan staffer on Capitol Hill — she has served as a Democratic aide, a GOP staff member and a shared, nonpartisan subcommittee clerk during a quarter-century at the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Two years out of Wake Forest University, in February 1987, Apostolou joined the panel as a staff aide to the majority Democrats on the subcommittee that then controlled spending by the Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development departments. Eight years later, when Republicans took control, she was one of several aides invited to stay on and work for the subcommittee’s new GOP chairman, Sen. Kit Bond (Mo.).
In 2001, she switched to the Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch to serve the Republican majority there — only to witness the return of a Democratic majority six months later, when Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.) quit the GOP and tipped the balance of power. But for the next 18 months, the Senators on that panel agreed Apostolou should work for all of them as a nondesignated subcommittee clerk. (She formally switched back to the GOP side at the Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch in 2003, and she has been the party’s top staffer for the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development since 2009.)
Apostolou’s long tenure — she counts 16 different Senators as bosses — is a reminder of a time when many more staffers stayed on the Hill for decades.
“Certainly a lot less people stay around for their career,” she said. “It’s similar to the rest of the world; people don’t plan for their careers to be here.”
But as one of the most senior aides on Appropriations, Apostolou has a wealth of knowledge about the details of the federal budget and — more importantly, she said — strong relationships with a broad range of people who can help get legislation passed. Of course, in recent years, getting spending bills passed has not been the norm, which she cited as one of her frustrations with the job.
“I consider myself a person who is trying to make government work better and can only do that to the extent we actually do something,” she said.
— Paul Singer
House Republicans spent a healthy portion of last year trying to make good on pledges to push back against Obama administration regulations constraining domestic energy production. Much of that effort flowed through the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, landing first on Brown’s desk.
As chief counsel to subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), Brown orchestrated passage of bills targeting Environmental Protection Agency regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, industrial boilers and power plant pollution. Many of the House bills have bipartisan support in the Senate, but not enough to meet the 60-vote threshold necessary for passage. That is why Brown will play a major role for Republicans this year.
Though their quest will probably come up short of enactment, she said the steady pressure from the House has been effective in staying the administration’s hand. “We feel that we enjoyed a lot of successes, and successes come in different ways,” Brown said, citing the EPA’s decision to abandon a proposal to update air quality standards for the ozone and the issuance of long-stalled Alaska offshore drilling permits.
Brown also contributed to one of the GOP’s biggest — albeit short-lived — victories: inclusion of language in the December payroll tax cut extension requiring President Barack Obama to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. That success proved Pyrrhic when Obama rejected the pipeline, but Brown’s subpanel kicked off a new legislative push on the issue days later.
This is Brown’s second job with the committee. From 2004 to 2006, she worked on energy issues when Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) was committee chairman. She later worked for the House Natural Resources Committee before detouring for a stint with Conoco-Phillips. In 2010, she returned to the Hill as an adviser to the Senate Republican Policy Committee before coming home to the Rayburn House Office Building.
Brown said the subcommittee’s focus on job creation and the economy will be a “continuing theme” in 2012. Additionally, it is expected to initiate a review of the Clean Air Act, the law underpinning much of the EPA’s regulatory agenda.
— Geof Koss
Alaska’s development and management of natural resources, such as its abundant oil and gas reserves and its federally owned land — more than any other state — is its economic lifeblood. So when Sen. Lisa Murkowski became the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee three years ago, she turned to a powerful player back home to run the staff. With more than 30 years of state government and business expertise in resource issues, Campbell was intimately familiar with the panel’s portfolio, which includes broad jurisdiction over energy development and public lands.
Campbell’s path to Capitol Hill was a scenic one. He was an Ohio sheriff’s investigator in the 1970s when he went to visit his father, who was working in Anchorage for Alaska Gov. Jay
Hammond. Having always harbored a desire to live near both mountains and the ocean, Campbell quickly decided to stay for good and found work with a state agency that helped small rural communities manage grants.
Campbell soon found himself immersed in state politics. A nine-year stretch as a state Senate aide was followed by two years working for Gov. Walter J. Hickel, who made him deputy chief of staff, and then two more years as deputy commissioner for the Department of Fish and Game. He left that post in 1995 and spent most of the next 14 years as a business consultant focused on environmental review and permitting issues (with a two-year break to run the Department of Fish and Game).
Since relocating to Washington, D.C., Campbell has helped negotiate a raft of bipartisan legislation handled by the panel, including a comprehensive energy policy rewrite that died in 2010 and a massive package of public lands bills that became law. While bipartisan collaboration has been the committee’s traditional method of operating, the dynamic has become more strained in the past year because of the deep divisions over offshore drilling safety and revenue proposals. But Campbell said he hasn’t tired of searching for common ground. “We’re looking and exploring the art of the possible,” he said.
— Geof Koss
Heading the panel’s Democratic professional staff, Clapp had a hand in writing legislation that shaped energy policy on several fronts in 2011. This year, when even less legislation is expected to move, the must-do annual spending bill that Clapp is instrumental in writing offers a rare venue for energy policy shifts.
On the one hand, the omnibus spending bill that Congress finished in December funds a program for small nuclear power reactors that was resisted by subcommittee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). But the measure also included Democratic language pushing the nuclear power industry and regulators to keep up with new technology and emerging threats to operations. (The provision was written after a tsunami crippled the Fukushima nuclear complex in Japan and U.S. reactors were deluged by Southeast tornados, Midwest flooding, a hurricane and a tropical storm.)
For lawmakers to reach bipartisan agreement on anything these days usually requires their aides to communicate closely. “Surprises are bad on the Appropriations Committee,” Clapp said. The Republican staff is in offices next door, making it easier to talk in person. “It’s a great benefit,” he said.
Clapp is from Tacoma, Wash., graduated from the University of Washington and once worked on the Hanford nuclear site cleanup. His hometown is a large container port on the Puget Sound, giving Clapp a unique perspective on how harbor work by the Army Corps of Engineers — also in the subcommittee’s jurisdiction — affects port communities.
His first Hill job was for then-Rep. Mike Kreidler, a Democrat from his home state who was elected in 1992. When Kreidler was ousted after one term, in the Republican wave of 1994, Clapp got a law degree at American University. He has since worked for home-state Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, on the D.C. staff of Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) and under Sen. Byron Dorgan when the North Dakota Democrat chaired the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.
— John D. Boyd
While working as an education consultant five years ago, Martel, a self-described nature buff, decided he wanted a career in renewable energy. That prompted him to get a master’s degree at Georgetown University focused on environmental, energy and regulatory policy but with plenty of exposure to economics and statistics. That background, and his current job, make him a natural to play an important role in one of this year’s few legislative battles destined to result in a law on the books.
The debate over extending the Social Security payroll tax cut is likely to sweep up several issues held over from last year. Among them is whether to maintain a job-creation incentive created in 2009 that’s treasured by the renewable power industry but that lapsed in December. The provision allowed wind and solar companies to claim a grant instead of an existing investment tax credit. Revival, at a cost of $1 billion, is being pushed hard by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who chairs not only the Energy and Natural Resources Committee but also the Finance panel where Martel works.
Bingaman knows well how much of energy policy is dictated by the tax code, and he wants increased aid for the renewable power industry to be the legislative legacy of his final year in office. So he will be relying on Martel in this winter’s extenders debate and through the end of the year, when another tax package with energy provisions is likely to be written to address many of the Bush-era tax cuts that are on course to expire. One of Bingaman’s priorities is winning an early agreement to extend the production tax credit, which primarily benefits the wind energy sector and is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.
Martel said an effort to change the structure of some tax credit programs could begin this year as part of a discussion on tax reform. Shifting some of the credits to a performance-based system could provide a way for lawmakers to reward clean energy output rather than appear to favor any one industry, he said.
— Lauren Gardner