Donald Trump won the presidency with a pledge to “drain the swamp,” reducing the undue influence of elites and beltway insiders on the functioning of the government.
To uphold this pledge, the incoming administration instituted a policy that bars registered lobbyists from participating in the teams that land in the federal departments to oversee the transition. That made things a little awkward for the lobbyists Trump had chosen months before to run the energy policy handoff.
“Although I have reluctantly decided that I cannot continue on the transition in an official capacity, I am excited about continuing to work to make America great again,” said Mike McKenna, the Republican energy lobbyist who led the transition team for the Department of Energy, in a statement earlier this month.
Another lobbyist on Trump's energy policy team, Mike Catanzaro of CGCN Group, also stepped down. The departures turned the routine process of bureaucratic stewardship into a rather more suspenseful and unpredictable affair.
Which brings us to today. A new leader has taken the reins of Trump's energy stagecoach mid-ride.
Thomas Pyle currently serves as president of the American Energy Alliance, founded in 2008 as a self-described non-partisan, nonprofit, “grassroots public policy advocacy” group. This group is also the advocacy arm of the Institute for Energy Research, a D.C.-based think tank that supports free-market policies over “wealth-reducing government activism” when it comes to energy and environmental policy. Pyle simultaneously serves as president of that organization.
In the mid-2000s, he worked for three lobbying firms, including one that he founded (see the full list at Open Secrets).
Before that, he served as director of federal affairs for Koch Industries, which includes petroleum pipelines and energy trading businesses in its broad consortium. The leadership of that corporation has worked to oppose policies favorable to wind and solar energy as well as electric vehicles. Interestingly, Pyle chose not to name his former employer on his current work bio, instead referring to it as “a major integrated manufacturing and services company.”
And immediately before becoming the Koch Industries envoy to Washington, Pyle worked in Congress, most prominently as a policy analyst for Tom DeLay, the Republican House Majority Whip at the time.
This trajectory demonstrates Pyle's ability to parlay work in government into professional opportunities to lobby the government on behalf of oil and gas industry groups. Pyle has gone on the record, though, to oppose policies intended to foster renewable energy.
“Extending these subsidies is not about promoting viable energy sources,” he wrote in a critique of efforts this spring to pass tax cut extenders for renewables like small wind and geothermal. “It is about perpetuating a cycle of dependency where politicians feed money to industries that then instruct their lobbyists to support those same politicians.”
To recap: when he lobbied for the petroleum industry, Pyle was simply assisting clients “in meeting their strategic public policy goals and priorities.” But when the clean energy does the same thing, Pyle says, “It’s time to end the cycle of dependency for wealthy energy speculators and their lobbyists. Enough is enough.”
He now brings that philosophy to the Energy Department, which has brokered tens of billions of dollars in clean energy investments under the Obama Administration.