Anti-Regulation Aide to Cheney Is Up for Energy Post

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A senior aide to Vice President Cheney is the leading contender to become a top official at the Energy Department, according to several current and former administration officials, a promotion that would put one of the administration's most ardent opponents of environmental regulation in charge of forming department policies on climate change.

F. Chase Hutto III has played a prominent behind-the-scenes role in shaping the administration's environmental policies for several years, the officials said, helping to rewrite rules affecting the air that Americans breathe and the waters that oil tankers traverse. In every instance, according to both his allies and opponents, he has challenged proposals that would place additional regulations on industry.

The move to elevate the domestic policy adviser to the post of assistant secretary for policy and international affairs signals the administration's determination to resist new environmental protections, environmentalists said.

The assistant secretary is the "primary advisor to the Secretary and the Department on energy and technology policy development," conducts overseas negotiations on energy issues such as climate change, performs environmental analyses, and "leads the Department's international energy initiatives," according to the agency's Web site.

Hutto did not respond to several requests for an interview. Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride would not comment on the matter, saying the office does not discuss pending nominations, but she confirmed that Hutto has helped shape administration policies on an array of issues, including proposed protections for endangered right whales and whether to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act.

"There is an interagency review process," McBride said in an interview. White House aides are "expected to offer opinions and participate in policy debates. That's the way the process works."

Jason K. Burnett, an administration critic who served as the Environmental Protection Agency's deputy associate administrator until June, said of Hutto: "He always struck me as being naturally and philosophically opposed to regulation at the outset, and it took an enormous amount of discussion and analysis to convince him otherwise." He added: "I can't think of a case where Chase advocated more environmental or health protections."

Hutto, 39, a Michigan native and a veteran of several successful GOP campaigns, has spent almost his entire career working for Republicans in Washington. He started out as an opposition researcher working on Spencer Abraham's 1994 upset Senate victory and conducted similar research for two other Senate bids before serving on the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign as a vote-recount team leader in Duval County, Fla.

After receiving a bachelor's degree in business administration and a law degree, both from the University of Michigan, Hutto worked briefly in the private sector at the firm Venable, Baetjer, Howard and Civiletti before joining Abraham's staff on the Judiciary subcommittee on immigration in October 1997. As a Senate staffer, Hutto focused on issues such as electronic commerce and privacy; he shifted his focus when Abraham took over the Energy Department in January 2001 and Hutto became a senior policy adviser there.

Burnett said Hutto, a vocal proponent of the free market, argued during interagency climate policy meetings that Americans are attached to their cars and would be loath to sacrifice them to achieve greenhouse gas reductions.

At the White House, Hutto has been one of the oil and gas industry's key points of contact for energy and environmental issues.

His policy portfolio has expanded over time, giving him significant influence over energy and environmental matters. He was detailed to the National Security Council as an energy adviser in October 2004 and moved to Cheney's office a year later as deputy assistant to the vice president for domestic policy.

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