Charlie Drevna is getting used to unwelcome surprises in the State of the Union address. The executive vice president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (NPRA) was watching last year’s speech with his wife in their Dunn Loring, Va., home when President Bush called America “addicted to oil.”
Drevna nearly fell out of his chair: “I just went, ‘Holy hell!’” when the Republican president and former oilman delivered the line, he said.
“This was a high, hard one that we didn’t see coming.”
Drevna wasn’t nearly as stunned by Bush’s call last week to slash gasoline consumption by 20 percent and ramp up dramatically the use of ethanol and other alternative fuels.
That’s in good measure due to the events of the last year. The chief executives of the major oil companies — NPRA’s largest members — were grilled under oath by lawmakers angry over their fat profits; Democrats rode to victory in the midterm elections partly on a pledge to crack down on Big Oil; and bills to curb greenhouse gas emissions seem to be sprouting like weeds on Capitol Hill.
As one of the top defenders of the petroleum industry, Drevna knows he is in for the fight of his professional life this year. But few doubt he is up to the task.
“He knows the issues really well, the policies really well, and gets the politics very well,” said the head of the energy and environmental practice at Dutko Worldwide, Stephen Brown, who counts NPRA among his clients.
As one utilities lobbyist, Scott Segal, put it: “This is the kind of guy who is very capable of telling folks on Capitol Hill exactly how it is.”
A 36-year veteran of the energy business, Drevna is respected for his command of the nitty-gritty of refining and the host of regulations that saddle the industry. Straight out of college, he took a job overseeing an environmental testing lab for Pittsburgh-based Consolidation Coal and started work on a chemistry master’s at Carnegie-Mellon. That was in 1971, when the Clean Air and Clean Water acts had ushered in the era of government regulation on the environment, and the petroleum industry was scrambling to adhere to the new standards.
After a series of quick moves within the company, Drevna joined the National Coal Association as the director of environmental affairs. He held top lobbying posts for large refiners Sunoco and Tosco, as well as the Oxygenated Fuels Association, before coming to NPRA five years ago.
The association represents all the large integrated refiners, most of the small and mid-sized independents, and most petrochemical manufacturers.
The right-hand man of NPRA President Bob Slaughter, Drevna is an unabashed advocate of petroleum refiners. Asked how he responded to charges that Big Oil’s profits are simply too big, he didn’t skip a beat.
“I will not sit here and apologize for that,” he said in an interview in NPRA’s K Street offices. “I think the industry has done remarkable things and I’m proud to represent them. I love this job.”
That passion hasn’t gone unnoticed in the world of energy and environmental lobbying. Neither have the levity and good cheer Drevna directs toward his opponents on the issues.
The president of Clean Air Watch, Frank O’Donnell, recalls drawing icy glares from petroleum industry lobbyists when he arrived at a birthday party for Scott Segal a couple years ago — until he ran into Drevna.
“He was as nice as can be,” O’Donnell said. “He made me feel like a welcome traveler in a foreign country.”
At a dinner hosted by Hart Energy Publishing last fall, Drevna was accepting an award when he spotted O’Donnell seated at a table next to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Paul Machiele, a key staffer in the development of the agency’s renewable fuels standards.
“I see Frank is sitting next to Paul,” Drevna told the crowd from the podium. “Hey Paul, don’t listen to him!” The audience erupted in laughter, O’Donnell recalled.
Drevna’s goodwill extends to the ethanol lobby and the president of the Renewable Fuels Association, Bob Dinneen, who has now invited him twice in a row to speak at the group’s annual conference. “I joke with him all the time and he jokes with me,” Drevna said.
But he doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his distaste for the government largesse that has flowed to ethanol producers. “That’s one industry that’s never been told ‘no’ by anyone. There’s going to be a point in time when someone’s going to have to step up to the plate and say, ‘Enough is enough,’” he said.
Aside from battling the ethanol lobby on any expansion of the ethanol mandate, NPRA will fight “tooth and nail” this year to block a House-passed bill that would strip oil and gas companies of a tax break for manufacturers, Drevna said. It will battle any plan to crack down on carbon emissions it deems too onerous for its members. And it will work to lift the profile of the petrochemical industry.
That’s a tall order for what Drevna describes as a “pork-and-beans association.” More than 100 years old, NPRA started a PAC only last year and has just 30 employees. Until Slaughter came aboard about six years ago, it shunned lobbying in favor of staging technical trade shows and monitoring federal energy policy. Every year, it holds the world’s biggest petrochemical conference.
To defend refiners in a political climate that has grown markedly more hostile to the industry, Drevna said he will rely on NPRA’s tested strategy of laying out the facts.
“I think we argue it or counter it with what we always try to do, which is to present hard scientific and economic data,” he said.
But he implied that the task might not be nearly as hard in the Senate as in the House. “We’re not looking to influence 435 members. We need to influence 51, or sometimes 41.”