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Talk about a tough first month on the job. David Hill was sworn in as general counsel of the U.S. Department of Energy on August 10. Nineteen days later, hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, pitching the nation into one of the most acute energy crises in its history. Just days after the storm, when thousands were still stranded in New Orleans and gas prices were soaring, Hill said his office had spent the week meeting with other federal agencies to temporarily ease certain regulations in order to keep the national fuel supply flowing. Hill, 42, worked closely with Energy secretary Samuel Bodman to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). At press time the department had agreed to release approximately 30 million barrels of oil, including a loan of 6 million barrels to ExxonMobil Corporation. “Each time the department receives a request for an SPR loan, those all need the secretary’s approval, and they all go through the office of general counsel,” explains Hill. His office checks for compliance with the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, while contractual specifics are handled by the Office of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which is part of the Energy Department but maintains its own legal office. Hill also worked with the Environmental Protection Agency to ease fuel-quality restrictions and with Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to obtain a temporary waiver of coastline shipping regulations � all in an attempt to maintain fuel supplies until damaged offshore refineries in the Gulf of Mexico can be brought back online. A former partner at Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin in Kansas City, Missouri, Hill had been deputy GC for energy policy at the Department of Energy since 2002, focusing on issues such as renewable energy, fossil fuel use, appropriations, and legislation. As GC of the entire agency, his role has expanded to include environmental management, waste cleanup, and litigation. He also oversees legal work involving the controversial Yucca Mountain project, a new storage facility in Nevada for spent nuclear fuel. With three years of government experience under his belt, Hill knows that different disasters require different responses from the Energy Department. “With Hurricane Lili in October 2002, it was another draw-down of the SPR,” he recalls. “In the blackout of August 2003, we were dealing with a lot of electricity issues. Now, it’s working on waivers of regulations with other agencies to keep crude oil flowing.” Even without the hurricane, Hill was already set to have his hands full in his first weeks on the job, thanks to the energy bill President Bush signed into law on August 8. The GC’s office � which numbers roughly 100 lawyers � is charged with ensuring that other divisions within the Energy Department understand the expectations and deadlines set forth in the new law. “People at the Department of Energy look to the office of general counsel to help them figure out what it means,” says Hill. The legal department also reviews loan-guarantee provisions and new electricity provisions that give the department responsibility for transmission lines, and it works with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on new regulations. Despite the storm-dampened start to his job, Hill’s sense of humor remains dry. “I’m not sure,” he jokes, “if there’s been any cause and effect between my confirmation and everything that’s been happening.”

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