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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has named Cody Stewart, a former congressional staffer and lobbyist for the oil and gas industry, as his new energy adviser.
"As we execute our 10-year strategic energy plan, Cody will be a key facilitator to ensure Utah is at the forefront in securing reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible energy," Herbert said in a statement. "Utah will benefit not only from Cody's keen understanding of related issues and stakeholder dynamics, but also from his sound judgment and balanced public policy approach."
Stewart replaces Amanda Smith, who will remain director of the Department of Environmental Quality.
He currently is chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Greg Bell. Previously, he was the director of the Congressional Western Caucus, a group of Republican Congress members that focuses heavily on land access and energy development.
Stewart, the son of U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart and nephew of 2nd Congressional District Republican nominee Chris Stewart, also was a staffer on the House Resources Committee under former Utah Rep. Jim Hansen and worked on public lands and energy issues for former Rep. Chris Cannon. He was legislative director for Rep. Rob Bishop before returning to Utah.
Stewart was registered as a lobbyist for several energy companies, including Americans for American Energy, and its parent organization, Policy Communications Inc., a pro-energy group.
He also was director of government affairs for the Western Business Roundtable, a trade organization for oil, gas, coal, agricultural and other companies.
The environmental group HEAL Utah criticized Stewart's selection, saying that he has a record of working as a lobbyist for energy interests and for elected officials who promote oil, gas and nuclear power.
Aaron Tilton, a former state representative who is president of Blue Castle Holdings, which is trying to build a pair of nuclear power plants in Emery County, was vice chairman of Americans for American Energy.
"It's appalling that even as Utah ranks near the bottom in terms of renewable energy use, Governor Herbert appoints an energy adviser whose only energy expertise seems to be underhanded lobbying for dirty energy projects," Matt Pacenza, policy director for HEAL Utah, said in a statement.
"This administration's policy is now being driven by the most extreme wing of dirty energy lobbyists in the West," Pacenza said. "Utahns should be very worried."
Herbert's spokeswoman, Ally Isom, said Herbert listens to all voices, including the conservation community, and shot back at HEAL's criticism.
"Even more appalling is the inclination of an extreme special interest group to personally attack a brand new appointee through the media, rather than sit down to constructively discuss one of the most critical issues facing this state and our country right now," she said. "We have a pro-energy development adviser because we have a pro-energy development governor. But that does not come at the sacrifice of the environment."
The Tribune recently reported that energy companies were the largest source of Herbert campaign contributions, giving more than $235,000 to the effort over the past 16 months or nearly $1 of every $6.
Sanpete County Commissioner Spencer Cox said that he has worked with Stewart as a staffer for Bishop and Bell and "I have all the respect in the world for him."
"He's incredibly knowledgeable, first and foremost," said Cox. "He's somebody who cares about consensus building and multiple players. ... I got the sense he's someone who has been willing to work with all sides, and he's frequently advised us to reach out and work with all parties."