Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has been mentioned as a possible Interior Secretary. But pretty much all the names floating around for that post would make the oil and gas industry happy. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
BY: SOO RIN KIM
While names were announced for a slew of appointments to President-elect Donald Trump's administration last week, there are still some significant posts left -- like running the Interior Department, which is in charge of wildlife and natural resources.
Oil execs and other pro-development types seem to be the leading contenders here, meaning it's likely that the department will be taking a drastic shift away from its focus of the last few years on conservation and renewable energy.
Robert E. Grady: The former George H.W. Bush speechwriter and policy advisor who ran the Office of Management and Budget's unit on natural resources, energy and science, Grady is best known in the environmental world for his key role in negotiating amendments to push through the Clean Air Act of 1990. Though the administration championed the law for reining in acid rain and toxic pollutants, environmental groups argued that some of the administration's provisions blunted its effect.
Currently a partner at private equity fund Gryphon Investors, Grady has donated a relatively modest $218,667 to federal politicians, including $5,400 to Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), $1,500 each to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and his leadership PAC and $1,000 to Trump this year. In 2012, he donated $7,500 to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and $35,000 his joint fundraising committee.
Grady's name has also surfaced to run the Energy Department or the Environmental Protection Agency.
Forrest Lucas: The sponsor of a number of racing events who also won naming rights to the Indianapolis Colts' home stadium, the founder and president of Lucas Oil is a familiar face in his home state Indiana. His appointment would be widely hailed by the oil and gas industry, which has battled conservationists in the Obama administration.
Employees of Lucas Oil Products (including Lucas himself) have donated a total of $965,486 since 2002 to federal candidates and committees; this year's biggest beneficiary was GOP Indiana Rep. Marlin Stutzman, who had an unfruitful senatorial campaign.
The Indiana oilman has also taken on a big role protecting farmers, ranchers and outdoor enthusiasts from threats posed by "animal rights groups" and "anti-farming extremists," such as the Humane Society of the United States.
His 501(c)(4) nonprofit group Protect the Harvest is a driving force of the anti-animal rights effort, spending nearly $1.9 million since 2010. The social welfare group has laid out $246,297 for federal political ads in the past two election cycles, including $53,500 supporting Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) this year.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Missouri Pork PAC, Missouri Cattlemen Association and Missouri Pork Producers are among the top donors to the nonprofit, and Lucas himself has given it $298,000.
Lucas and his wife Charlotte Lucas, who co-founded Lucas Oil, have donated a total of $752,272 over the years, including $197,054 this cycle. Trump's joint fundraising committee, Trump Victory Fund, got $25,000 of that.
Two years ago, Lucas took out a full-page ad in the Indianapolis Star apologizing for a Facebook post by his wife that read, "I'm sick and tired of minorities running our country! As far as I'm concerned, I don't think that atheists (minority), muslims (minority)n or any other minority group has the right to tell the majority of the people in the United States what they can and cannot do here."
In the apology, Lucas said his wife's comments were "harsh and insensitive," although he said she did not intend to offend anyone.
Harold G. Hamm: The Continental Resources chief executive who just became the 54th richest person in the world with personal net worth of $15.4 billion, Hamm was a key energy policy advisor to Romney four years ago and has played a similar role for Team Trump this year.
He was the mastermind in shaping Trump's campaign pledge to revive the Keystone XL oil pipeline project with TransCanada -- rejected by Obama last year -- with the condition that North Dakota oil get a bigger share of space in the pipeline. Hamm's Continental Resources is a major player in the North Dakota oil scene.
Also being considered for the Energy Department spot, the man Trump calls the "king of energy," holds the view that the U.S. has abundant oil "abundance" view on the oil reserve issue, and has criticized Obama's focus on domestic renewable energy as indirect support for Islamic terrorism by making the United States rely on Middle Eastern oil.
The fracking mogul and his wife Sue Ann Hamm have donated nearly $1.9 million to federal candidates and committees over the years, including $5,000 to Romney's campaign and $985,000 to pro-Romney super PAC Restore our Future in 2012.
Meanwhile, tensions have fired up in North Dakota as demonstrators clash with the police over the contested Dakota Access Pipeline, which is expected to carry oil obtained from fracking by Hamm's Continental Resources.
Trump himself was deeply involved in the pipeline, having invested between $500,000 and $1 million in Energy Transfer Partners, the key player in the project, Trump's financial disclosure report from May 2015 showed. And CEO Kelcy Warren has returned the favor by donating $3,000 to the Trump campaign this year and an additional $100,000 to his joint fundraising committee. Trump dropped most of his investment in the company this summer, leaving only $50,000.
Sarah Palin: The former Alaska governor might be a long shot for Interior, but the presence of her name on the list is attracting mega-attention nationwide.
Putting aside all other controversies revolving around her, we can safely assume which direction the Interior Department would head under Palin: "Drill, baby, drill." (Wolves, among other animals, might not be thrilled with the appointment, either.)
In the 2006 gubernatorial election, though government employees and individuals from the finance sector topped her donors list, the energy and natural resources sector lead by commercial fishing and oil and gas industries played a key role in her victory.
Palin pushed through oil and natural gas development plans during her time in office, including controversial drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; she also signed legislation to grant a pipeline contract to TransCanada. The construction project was cancelled in 2014 after research showed it was inefficient.
After the unsuccessful presidential campaign with GOP candidate John McCain in 2008, Palin resigned from the office and started SarahPAC. The political action committee has spent a total of $14.8 million over the last four election cycles. This year, the PAC spent about $2.1 million, just $72,500 of which went to federal candidates, including $5,000 to Trump. Nearly $900,000 was spent by the PAC on fundraising.
Ray Washburne: CNBC reported last week that Washburne, a Dallas investor who is currently leading the Trump transition team on commerce, could be next in charge of the country's federal land and natural resources.
Washburn was vice chairman of the 2016 Trump Victory Fund and a former Republican National Committee chair.
Individuals from his company Charter Holdings, involved in real estate, restaurants, private equity and energy investments, have donated a total of $517,000 to Republican candidates over last three election cycles. This includes Washburne's $2,700 to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and another $5,400 to Texas Rep. Pete Sessions this cycle.
Overall, the Texas investor and his wife Heather Washburne contributed a total of $579,811 to Republican candidates and the Republican party.
Robert B. Gillam: The Alaska investor is the latest addition to the rumored interior secretary list according to the Alaska Dispatch Publishing.
Having graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania with Trump in 1968, Gillam said in a statement, "I recognized that suddenly it was possible for me to serve in a role that has otherwise been one of career politicians."
Unlike his rivals for the slot, Gillam's federal political contributions over the years have been bipartisan. The millionaire financier made his single biggest donation in 2010, when he donated $50,000 to Alaskans Standing Together, a super PAC that spent $1.8 million to secure Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's seat in Alaska. He has given $28,250 to national Republican party committees and $23,550 to GOP candidates -- but has also donated $37,000 to the Democratic Party of Alaska and $14,300 to Democratic candidates.
During the 2016 cycle, he sent $5,000 to GOP Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan's leadership PAC, True North PAC. Backed by the air transport and railroads industries as well as the Koch brothers, Sullivan's PAC gave $105,000 to Republican candidates including Ayotte, Blunt and Murkowski.