A key player in defeating climate legislation over the last few years is taking his act to the natural gas industry.

The Hill is reporting that Tom Hassenboehler, the minority legislative counsel to Sen. James Inhofe (R- Okla.), is trading in his public sector job for an opportunity to be a lobbyist. Hassenboehler was named vice president of policy and legislative affairs at America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), which is the trade group that represents 34 of the country’s natural gas exploration and production companies. 

The outgoing advisor to Inhofe clearly knows how to offer effective advice. Inhofe is by far the most vocal opponent of the scientific evidence supporting man-made climate change. As the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee when Republicans controlled the Senate, and more recently as the committee’s ranking member, Inhofe has used his power to defeat measure after measure that focused on reigning in carbon emissions.

During key times when Democrats have looked to move on climate legislation, Inhofe has stolen headlines by proclaiming climate change to be the, “Greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” The senior senator from Oklahoma has even gone as far as to compare those who use scientific evidence to justify action on climate change to Nazi propaganda leading up to the Holocaust.  

While Inhofe’s tactics have been described as “extreme,” they have made a difference in halting the creation of any encompassing form of energy legislation over the last 10 years. And behind every great obstructionist — er, I mean legislative tactician — is a trusted and wise advisor. That’s where Hassenboehler comes in.

Andrew Restuccia’s piece in The Hill explains how important the outgoing advisor has been over the years. “Hassenboehler played a major role in working to derail efforts by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and former Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) to pass a cap-and-trade bill in 2008,” he writes. Restuccia quotes Inhofe spokesman Matt Dempsey saying, “[Hassenboehler] joined just before Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill hit the floor and was instrumental in working to defeat it.”

Hassenboehler’s move to the natural gas sector comes at a critical time for the industry. With the failure of recent attempts to pass encompassing energy legislation, natural gas is seen as an energy source on which Democrats and Republicans may be able to agree. Even before the 2010 midterm elections, the abundance of the resource had literally moved it to “center stage” in the nation’s political theatre. But the industry's place in America’s energy future does not come without its challenges.

Intense scrutiny about the industry’s practice of hydraulic fracturing, a process in which harmful chemicals are injected into the ground to access natural gas supplies, looms over the industry’s future. Most of this scrutiny surrounds concerns about the possibility of water contamination as a result of fracking. The renewable energy sector also would like to compete more against natural gas and, in the coming months, it’s likely to take aim at fossil fuels as much as possible.

So clearly the natural gas industry is at a critical moment. There are high expectations for the sector in high places like the White House and Senate, but there are also major concerns about the sector’s extraction methods. To navigate these waters, the industry has identified the need for a skipper who can both get things done while also preventing things from getting done. They may have found their man.

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