Former Boehner chief named head of American Petroleum Institute

Former Boehner chief named head of American Petroleum Institute
© Greg Nash

Mike Sommers, who currently helms a private equity industry group, will become the new chief executive of the American Petroleum Institute (API), the group announced on Wednesday.

The approval from API’s board of directors comes two days after reports surfaced that Sommers, who also served as a top aide to former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerJordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker GOP senator says he 'regularly' considers leaving Republican Party Republicans mull new punishments for dissident lawmakers MORE (R-Ohio), had been selected by the industry group’s leadership to replace outgoing President and CEO Jack Gerard.

Gerard will be stepping down at the end of August, and the new leader will assume the role on Sept. 1. 

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“Mike is a very experienced manager and strategist with a strong track record of working collaboratively to resolve challenging issues,” said Darren Woods, the chairman of API’s board of directors and CEO of ExxonMobil. “He is a model of leadership and brings tremendous energy to API at an important time for the organization and our industry.”

The association is drawing near its 100th year in Washington and looking to capitalize on some of the gains it has made, including during the Trump administration. Still, the group has butted heads with the White House on trade issues, including tariffs and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). 

“At a time of transformational progress when natural gas and oil are pioneering groundbreaking innovation, delivering tremendous environmental benefits, and leading long-term economic solutions, I look forward to continuing the work of API’s talented team and representing an industry that is directly enhancing the lives and improving opportunities for Americans and people around the world,” Sommers said in a statement. 

Nels Olson and executive search firm Korn Ferry carried out the search. Olson had also placed Gerard at API a decade ago.

Sommers is getting a large pay raise by taking the position, considered to be one of the most prestigious on K Street.

Gerard earned nearly $6.8 million in total compensation in 2016, according to the most recent IRS records available. Sommers received about $1.5 million that same year at the American Investment Council, an organization with $7 million in revenue. 

API, which represents a large swath of the oil and gas industry, takes in $229.7 million in revenue, making it a powerhouse. Last year, it spent about $7.5 million on lobbying, making it one of the top 50 spenders on advocacy in Washington.

Under Gerard, API doubled its membership and increased its clout in Washington. He fought off numerous attempts at enacting climate change policies by the federal government and pushed back against some offshore drilling standards that the industry saw as unnecessary. In 2015, API merged with America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA).

“Mike is equipped to build on the industry’s successes and help guide our future. We have great confidence in him and are excited for the future of our industry and the next chapter at API,” said Woods.

The choice won praise from other areas of the energy industry, with the U.S. Energy Association (USEA) saying that Sommers had the "drive" to notch more victories at API.

“American Petroleum Institute is a long-time member of the USEA Board of Directors, and Jack Gerard has been a great friend. While succeeding him will be a challenge, I believe Mike Sommers is a great choice to lead the industry at such a critical time," said Barry Worthington, the USEA's executive director.

“Between our continued reliance on oil and natural gas, which powers and propels our economy, to our country’s movement toward more innovative ways to produce energy, API requires the experience and drive of someone like Mike Sommers," he continued in a statement, offering USEA as a "resource" for Sommers.

“Mike has been at the epicenter of politics, business, industry and economic development. He appears perfectly positioned to advance the goals and work of the oil and gas industry," Worthington said.

Before heading to K Street, Sommers spent nearly his entire 20-year career in BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerJordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker GOP senator says he 'regularly' considers leaving Republican Party Republicans mull new punishments for dissident lawmakers MORE's office, starting as an intern and eventually rising to be the Ohio lawmaker’s chief of staff. Sommers also had a one-year stint in the George W. Bush White House in 2005.

His current employer, the American Investment Council, played a key role during tax reform, fighting to preserve the “carried interest” tax break, a provision that lawmakers of both parties have railed against. It enables some private equity and hedge fund executives to pocket profits at the lower capital gains rate. 

Updated at 4:45 p.m.