Former Senate Aide Works on Conservation in Energy Sector

Eric Washburn has joined the Policy Resolution Group at Bracewell & Giuliani, April 2014
National Journal
Christopher Snow Hopkins
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Christopher Snow Hopkins
April 14, 2014, 3:51 p.m.

As a teen­ager, Eric Wash­burn im­mersed him­self in books about eco­logy. Home-schooled for a year on a ranch in Col­or­ado’s Yampa River Val­ley, the fu­ture aide to two Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­ers shot thou­sands of pho­to­graphs of loc­al wild­life.

“I think that was the most form­at­ive year of my life,” said Wash­burn, who just joined the Policy Res­ol­u­tion Group at Bracewell & Gi­uliani. “It was that Col­or­ado ex­per­i­ence that in­stilled in me that love of nature.”

At Bracewell’s PRG, Wash­burn will draw on his ex­pert­ise — work as an en­vir­on­ment­al­ist plus a dec­ade in the Sen­ate fol­lowed by a dec­ade on K Street — to ad­vise util­it­ies and oth­er cli­ents in the en­ergy space. As oil and gas com­pan­ies ex­pand their op­er­a­tions in the West­ern U.S., Wash­burn will help them set up “hab­it­at ex­changes” to mit­ig­ate eco­lo­gic­al dam­age.

“In­ev­it­ably, you’re go­ing to have a cer­tain amount of harm to the hab­it­at, wheth­er it’s be­cause of a new oil well or a wind farm,” he said. “So you look for areas off­s­ite where you can in­vest in restor­ing that hab­it­at so that there’s no net loss.”

One of the an­im­als threatened is the great­er prair­ie chick­en, an en­dangered spe­cies that draws spec­tat­ors for its flam­boy­ant plumage and out­land­ish mat­ing ritu­al. An­oth­er is the great­er sage-grouse, which has not been clas­si­fied as an en­dangered spe­cies but has spawned con­ser­va­tion ef­forts on the state and na­tion­al levels. “We’re wait­ing to see, over time, what the mit­ig­a­tion needs are with re­spect to these two birds,” Wash­burn said.

Wash­burn, 51, who ar­rives from Blue­Wa­ter Strategies, was en­ticed to Bracewell & Gi­uliani by close friend Scott Segal, who leads the PRG. “He and I have lit­er­ally talked to each oth­er for over 10 years about the pos­sib­il­ity of “¦ work­ing to­geth­er as part­ners,” Wash­burn said. “I think we figured out that we’d bet­ter do this now be­fore we were grumpy old men.”

Wash­burn was also in­trigued by what he calls the group’s “in­teg­rated sys­tem,” which com­bines a law firm, lobby shop, and com­mu­nic­a­tions op­er­a­tion.

Born in Man­hat­tan, Kan., Wash­burn moved to Blacks­burg, Va., when he was 2. As he was grow­ing up he re­lo­cated to Stock­holm, Den­ver, south­ern Michigan, the Yampa River Val­ley, and fi­nally south­ern Maine. His step­fath­er taught deaf chil­dren and was a “very ideal­ist­ic man,” he said. “He was con­stantly strug­gling to find the per­fect edu­ca­tion­al for­um and nev­er quite achieved that. That’s why we moved as of­ten as we did.”

After re­ceiv­ing a bach­el­or’s de­gree in psy­cho­bi­o­logy from Bowdoin Col­lege, Wash­burn en­rolled at Yale Uni­versity’s School of Forestry and En­vir­on­ment­al Stud­ies but left after a year to spend nine months as a re­search as­sist­ant in the Con­gres­sion­al Of­fice of Tech­no­logy As­sess­ment, which was dis­mantled in 1995. “It was one of the un­for­tu­nate agen­cies that got elim­in­ated after Re­pub­lic­ans took power in Con­gress in 1994 and were look­ing for ways to shrink gov­ern­ment,” Wash­burn ex­plained. “OTA was one agency that didn’t have a large enough con­stitu­ency to de­fend it­self.”

Wash­burn re­turned to Yale for a semester, but then was lured to Wash­ing­ton for a second time as a con­sult­ant with the Nat­ur­al Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil. Even­tu­ally, Wash­burn re­sumed his stud­ies in New Haven and re­ceived a mas­ter’s de­gree in forest sci­ence, after which he spent sev­er­al years lay­ing the ground­work for a doc­tor­al dis­ser­ta­tion on “how the na­tion­al news me­dia cov­ers en­vir­on­ment­al is­sues,” he said. At some point, however, Wash­burn sus­pen­ded his stud­ies yet again to join the staff of Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., the Demo­crat­ic lead­er in the Sen­ate from 1995 to 2005.

“At the time, I thought that I was go­ing to fin­ish writ­ing my dis­ser­ta­tion while work­ing six days a week in the Sen­ate,” Wash­burn said. “Of course, those be­came fun­da­ment­ally in­com­pat­ible. The Sen­ate won out, and I nev­er quite fin­ished my Ph.D.”

After four years as Daschle’s le­gis­lat­ive as­sist­ant, Wash­burn was pro­moted to le­gis­lat­ive dir­ect­or. Later, he be­came a seni­or ad­viser to Sen. Harry Re­id, D-Nev., which led to an ap­point­ment as Demo­crat­ic staff dir­ect­or for the Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee. But Wash­burn was bumped from that po­s­i­tion as part of a deal to en­tice then-Sen. Jim Jef­fords, R-Vt., away from his party.

“Dur­ing that peri­od, [Re­id] was ne­go­ti­at­ing with Jef­fords to switch parties and caucus with the Demo­crats,” Wash­burn said. “As part of the bar­gain­ing, Jef­fords be­came chair­man of the EPW Com­mit­tee, bring­ing with him his own staff.”

Be­fore Blue­Wa­ter Strategies, Wash­burn worked at Baker, Donel­son, Bear­man, Cald­well, and Berkow­itz. Wash­burn is the found­ing ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Theodore Roosevelt Con­ser­va­tion Part­ner­ship, a co­ali­tion of en­vir­on­ment­al groups.

Wash­burn is mar­ried to Robin Schep­per, former ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” cam­paign. They have two ad­op­ted chil­dren from Kaza­kh­stan.

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