Bush selects Abraham as new energy leader

By Kathleen Davis, Associate Editor

The transition to a new administration includes President Bush’s selection of Spencer Abraham, a former senator from Michigan, as energy secretary.

Abraham has been in the political arena for years, long before his Senate stint.

He was chairman of the Michigan Republican Party from 1983 to 1990, before becoming deputy chief of staff to then Vice President Dan Quayle. After that short position was over in 1991, Abraham moved on to be co-chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee and then into his Senate seat in 1994, which he held until his defeat last November by Democrat Deborah Stabenow.

During his tenure, Abraham worked on the budget; commerce, science and transportation; and small business committees. In fact, Abraham was originally interested in Bush’s nomination for secretary of transportation, but was switched into the energy position once Bush requested Norman Mineta be appointed to head the transportation department.

Abraham’s appointment has been criticized by some, especially in light of his track record in the Senate. Abraham co-sponsored a bill to dissolve the Department of Energy (DOE) during one session. He supported Minnesota Senator Rod Grams’ efforts to eliminate DOE and shift all responsibilities under the umbrella of the Department of Interior. All to cut federal spending.

Bush’s transition team now states that Abraham has changed his previous views on DOE.

While often labeled a “friend to big oil,” Abraham actually asked for a temporary 150-day repeal of the federal gas tax in an effort to help with skyrocketing fuel costs last summer. He was quoted at the time as stating, “Americans should not have to choose between groceries and gas.”

The Senate did not agree with his effort and rejected his repeal by a 59-40 vote.

However, Abraham does reportedly support legislation to expand oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wild-life Refuge, a stance which has environmental groups like Friends of the Earth up in arms.

Abraham has also pointed a finger at the Clinton administration, claiming a legacy of failed energy policies, which leaves the U.S. hinging on the import of foreign oil. Like Bush, he supports a push away from this dependence and toward a more self-reliant energy plan.

An attorney by trade, Abraham attended Harvard Law School, graduating with his degree in 1979. While at Harvard, Abraham founded the Federalist Society, a law group slanted toward both conservative and libertarian views.

Bush also nominated Pat Wood III and Judy Walsh to positions in an energy transition advisory team. Wood is chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) and Walsh was a commissioner of the PUCT. Both have been significantly involved in deregulation in the state.

Walsh recently resigned from the PUCT. She agreed to stay until a successor is appointed, but she did not cite Bush’s nomination as her reason for leaving. At press time, Wood was still in his position as chairman.

Rumors that Ken Lay, CEO of Enron Corp., could become a strategic energy advisor to Bush still circulate, but nothing has been confirmed at press time.


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