Energy: 10 Staffers to Know

Helping Shape the Energy Bill

Energy and climate change legislation is one of the top priorities for the Obama administration and the 111th Congress. This week, in fact, a major energy bill is being marked up in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The legislation is filled with complex language about an array of energy issues. Here are 10 Hill staffers who will play a crucial role in the country’s future energy legislation.

Karen Billups, minority chief counsel, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
Age: 46
Birthplace: Tyler, Texas
Education: B.A., history and English, Southern Methodist University; J.D., University of Texas

Karen Billups made the typical move from Hill staffer to lobbyist, and then went the unusual route back to the Congressional payroll, returning to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in 2003 after lobbying for Entergy for four years.

“I love this job,— Billups said. “I think it’s the most fun job I’ve ever had.—

What makes it fun, she added, is that after 20 years of working on energy issues, it still feels fresh.

“It’s something different every day,— she said. “Rarely a day goes by that I don’t learn something new. The energy issues are so broad, and the technology is constantly changing. It’s never boring.—

An energy industry consultant who has worked with Billups over the years called the staffer “a real legal talent— whose conservative views reflect the interests of her boss, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

“She’s very quiet and doesn’t seek personal recognition but is an extraordinarily knowledgeable staffer,— the energy consultant said.

Despite her own political stripes, Billups said energy issues can be nonpartisan. “Many of these issues are regional in nature, so we have a good relationship working across the aisle,— she said.

Billups is eager to meet with outside groups and lobbying interests, but she also includes the professional staff members who focus on the specific issue areas in any meetings.

Billups considers herself a sounding board for the committee’s staff. “Because of my institutional memory, it allows people to bounce ideas off of me,— she said.

Greg Dotson, chief counsel, House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Environment
Age: 41
Birthplace: Charleston, S.C.
Education: B.A., Virginia Tech; J.D., University of Oregon

Greg Dotson began working for Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) in 1996. Now, he heads the House Energy and Commerce chairman’s energy and environment team during a Congressional session that is packed with debate and politicking over a climate change and energy bill.

He has staffed Waxman on matters such as the reauthorization of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Food Quality Protection Act, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the pending American Clean Energy and Security Act.

“For years, I was able to meet with anyone who requested a meeting,— Dotson said of his interactions with private-sector and interest groups. “Since Rep. Waxman became chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I’ve found my time is much more constrained because we’ve been so busy. Of course, meeting with stakeholders is still very important.—

One energy industry advocate said Dotson keeps his cards close to the vest.

“He is very sensitive to the implications of various policies and things that his boss or others might be recommending,— the advocate said. “He’s sort of an unsung hero on the Waxman staff.—

Chris Miller, senior policy adviser on energy and environment to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
Age: 46
Birthplace: Detroit
Education: Undergraduate and master’s degrees in natural resources management from the University of Michigan

Having spent half of his 46 years working on natural resource issues on Capitol Hill, Chris Miller is a veteran of countless legislative fights.

But the senior adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he’s struck by how energy has evolved from a peripheral issue to one that permeates nearly every debate. “Everything seems to have some sort of energy hook these days,— he said.

For Miller, the road to the Majority Leader’s office included a stint in the House and 10 years working for Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) before joining the Environment and Public Works Committee, where he worked for Reid and then-Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), both of whom chaired the panel.

Considered “even-keeled— by lobbyists, Miller said he meets frequently with a broad array of energy stakeholder groups and daily with Reid himself.

In addition to working on Nevada issues, Miller helps coordinate Democratic message and policy on energy — no small task considering the regional fault lines that surround the issue.

“That colors every decision, every political move, every policy matter,— he said. “To have a caucus-wide position on any of those things is pretty tough.—

Bettina Poirier, majority staff director and chief counsel, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Age: 47
Birthplace: New York
Education: B.A., Columbia University; J.D., New York University

Chances are if you encounter Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in the Capitol complex, Bettina Poirier is in close proximity.

As the top Democratic staffer on the environment panel, Poirier plays a major supporting role in Boxer’s outreach campaign to line up 60 votes for a cap-and-trade climate bill. “Looking for ways to break up logjams is a key part of what we’re doing right now,— Poirier said.

While energy is technically beyond the environment committee’s jurisdiction, it’s indisputable that “cap-and-trade— will fundamentally change the way energy is produced. “She’s definitely a major player in this landscape,— one environmental lobbyist said of Poirier.

Poirier spent two years working for Boxer earlier this decade before detouring in 2003 to the other side of the Capitol to work for Dean of the House John Dingell (D-Mich.) for two years.

She rejoined Boxer’s staff in 2005 and was named the first woman staff director for the Environment Committee when Boxer assumed the gavel in 2007.

Among Poirier’s proudest legislative accomplishments is working with Senate Republicans to override President George W. Bush’s 2007 veto of the Water Resources Development Act.

It was the first veto override of the Bush presidency and cleared the way for federal funds for flood control and coastal restoration to flow into the hurricane-ravaged Gulf of Mexico region.

“Being able to make that kind of difference is a very satisfying thing,— said Poirier, who witnessed the devastation of Hurricane Katrina on a Congressional visit after the 2005 storm.

Mary Frances Repko, senior policy adviser to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)
Age: 42
Birthplace: Detroit
Education: B.A., international studies, Johns Hopkins University; M.S., natural resources policy, University of Michigan

Mary Frances Repko was raised on science. Her mother is a chemist and her father is a university physicist. Repko brings that background, along with a natural resources degree, to her Congressional job advising House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on environmental and energy policy.

“I do a lot of technical translation,— said Repko, who joined Hoyer’s staff in 2007. “I have to make value judgments about whether or not I would take a certain action, based on the science.—

Hoyer is Repko’s fifth Capitol Hill boss. Among her other jobs, she spent nine years advising Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and was legislative director for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

The combination of Senate and House experience, she said, helps her think through the politics of the policies under consideration.

“The House side is institutionally very different from the Senate,— she said. “I’m really learning to appreciate both of them for what each can do and the tools each has in the legislative process.—

One energy lobbyist called Repko one of the best staffers on Capitol Hill. Repko, the lobbyist said, “gives incredibly honest and useful feedback to both people who are curious about what the Hill could or should do and also to her boss and Members.—

Repko said that listening to trade groups, lobbyists and citizens is a central part of how she gathers information. “It’s been an incredibly interesting year,— said Repko, who started her career working for the World Wildlife Fund. “It’s been ’round-the-clock, nonstop.—

Lorie Schmidt, senior counsel, environment and energy, House Energy and Commerce Committee
Age: 49
Birthplace: Urbana, Ill.
Education: B.S., metallurgical engineering, Purdue University; J.D., Harvard Law School

Lorie Schmidt has a single task ahead of her: drafting an energy and climate change bill. “The most important piece I’m working on is trying to figure out how we reduce global warming pollution, while also ensuring that we have a diverse energy supply,— Schmidt said.

Schmidt said she approaches this legislative task with the perspective of 15 years of working at the Environmental Protection Agency. “I think a lot about how we actually implement this once it’s enacted,— she said.

She joined the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s staff three years ago, under then-ranking member John Dingell (D-Mich.), when Democrats were in the minority.

“I fell into [this job], but I can’t imagine doing anything better,— she said. “Years ago, someone told me doing environmental policy in Washington was like playing a three-dimensional chess game. It’s important for what it means long term for the planet. And there’s a wonderful gamesmanship on how you anticipate and react to what the other players are doing.—

Schmidt said she and her colleagues on the committee “actively reach out to stakeholders— who have an interest in the bill. That includes everyone from environmental groups to oil companies. But, she concedes, her schedule hasn’t allowed for much interaction.

“Because of the very aggressive schedule the chairman has had us on, we haven’t had the opportunity to meet with nearly as many folks as we’d like to,— she said. “We need to be drawing on that specific expertise.—

Bob Simon, majority staff director, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
Age: 53
Birthplace: Philadelphia
Education: B.S., chemistry, Ursinus College; Ph.D., inorganic chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

As the top Democratic staffer on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for the past decade, Bob Simon has already had a hand in shaping two major comprehensive energy laws — and is currently knee-deep in a third.

But it’s his work on creating a program to compensate federal workers sickened by their work on nuclear weapons that for him stands out as a highlight of his 15-year Senate career with Energy Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).

“They were serving their country and I think being served very poorly by the system as it then existed,— Simon said of the thousands of sick workers helped by the legislation he helped steer into law in 2000.

Simon similarly has devoted his own professional career to public service, working for the Department of Energy and the National Academy of Sciences before coming to the Hill.

Aided by a background steeped in science, Simon is currently focused on the widespread deployment of clean energy technology.

“Being able to get things demonstrated at scale and mobilizing the financing that’s needed is really the biggest challenge,— he said. “That’s at the heart of a lot of these problems.—

He also has a message for the many lobbyists and interests groups waiting outside the committee’s door: Do your homework. “Your best bet is to come with a really good substantive case,— he said. “Details matter in energy policy. Members of this committee like to know the facts.—

Andrea Spring, professional staff member, House Energy and Commerce Committee
Age: 38
Birthplace: Baton Rouge, La.
Education: B.A., history, Yale University; master’s in public policy, Harvard University

Being a Republican aide on the House Energy and Commerce Committee while Democratic-led climate change legislation is the hottest priority can be more about stopping potential policies than writing the legislation.

That leaves little for Andrea Spring to point to as her finished product.

“You can spend years where you don’t enact major legislation, but a lot of what you do in terms of oversight, or not enacting legislation, all of that is very important,— she said.

It’s a sharp contrast to her first job out of college as an editor at Campaigns & Elections magazine. “The fun thing about being a journalist was having an actual physical product that I could say this is what I spent my month doing,— Spring said.

Before returning to the Hill to work on the committee, Spring served in the legislative affairs department at the Electric Power Supply Association. She had previously worked in the office of then-Rep. Ed Bryant (R-Tenn.).

“One of the nice things about working for a trade association was I got to really specialize in certain issues, and I got to spend a lot of time on electricity and get into the details,— she said.

She is currently focused on cap and trade, and likes to keep an open-door policy.

“To the extent that we can work the scheduling out, we think it’s important to hear from people who are actively involved in these issues, people in the industry or really anyone who’s interested in these issues,— she said.

Karen Wayland, energy and climate adviser to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
Age: 42
Birthplace: Connecticut
Education: B.A., master’s in natural resources management and engineering, University of Connecticut; dual Ph.D., geology and resource development, Michigan State University

Karen Wayland brings a highly relevant skill set to her new role as policy adviser to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

For starters, she spent five of the past six years as legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council before joining the Speaker’s staff a few months ago.

In that capacity, she also led efforts to coordinate energy and climate strategy among sometimes divergent national environmental groups.

“She knows almost everyone in the environmental community,— one advocate said. Prior to the NRDC, Wayland did a stint as a Congressional science fellow in the office of another top Democrat — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), the Democratic Whip at the time.

Her background should serve her well in the daunting task that looms before her: helping to steer the landmark energy and climate change bill to the House floor after it passes the Energy and Commerce Committee.

To do so, she’ll have to navigate a path littered with powerful Democratic committee chairmen who want a piece of the action, while also preserving the delicate agreements made to get the bill out of the energy committee.

Despite the frenetic pace of her new job, Wayland said she’s excited to be working for the Speaker on her flagship issue of global warming. “This is the place where things are happening,— she said of the House, which has taken the early lead on climate change and energy policy.

Jim Zoia, chief of staff, House Natural Resources Committee
Age: 52
Birthplace: Cleveland
Education: B.A., Ohio State University

A few years after finishing a journalism degree at Ohio State University in 1978, Jim Zoia went to work as a legislative assistant for Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) — and never left.

Nearly 30 years later, Zoia is chief of staff for the House Natural Resources Committee, which is chaired by the West Virginia Democrat.

In that role, lobbyists say Zoia is the “go-to-guy— for energy firms of all stripes eyeing the millions of public acres that fall under the committee’s purview.

The path to those lands lies through the desk of Zoia, who in a recent interview said he was hard at work on a 100-plus-page bill that will “generally allow for orderly development of both onshore and offshore resources.—

A key aspect of that bill concerns some unfinished business from the 110th Congress — oil and gas drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf. The bill also addresses new tensions over renewable energy development on public lands.

While energy production may be the committee’s highest-profile issue, Zoia said he’s particularly proud of his work to preserve public lands, including the recent omnibus lands bill signed into law by President Barack Obama that protects millions of acres and legislation creating the largest network of federally protected rivers in the eastern United States.