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By Elisa Wood
It's hard to imagine two people less alike than Harold Hamm and Heather Zichal, the top energy advisers to the presidential candidates.
Hamm, energy czar for Mitt Romney, is a billionaire oil man who rose to success with only a high school diploma. Raised as a sharecropper's son, he is now the 35th richest person in America.
Zichal, President Barack Obama's deputy assistant for energy and climate change, is the daughter of a medical doctor. She was an intern for the Sierra Club while at Rutgers University. After graduating, she soared up Washington's policy ranks to a top White House position in little over a decade.
Who exactly are Hamm and Zichal? What influence do they wield? And what do energy and environmental insiders think about them?
Testifying before Congress on energy independence in September, Hamm said, "Good things flow from American oil and natural gas." And they certainly have for Hamm, age 66, who is founder, chairman and CEO of Continental Resources, an Oklahoma City independent oil and natural gas production company that has put Hamm on Forbes' list of wealthiest Americans and on Time Magazine's list of the most influential.
He appeared before Congress as none of these things though, not even Romney's advisor, he said, "but as an American patriot," a common theme for Hamm. His company's corporate tagline is 'American oil champion,' and he describes today's thriving domestic oil market as the "American energy renaissance."
Hamm's praise for all things American is not surprising given that his story is the iconic American dream. He was the youngest child of 13 who grew up in poverty in Lexington, Oklahoma and entered the oil industry pumping gas and cleaning tanks. He started his own oilfield service company in 1966 when he borrowed money to buy a bob tail tank truck. The next year he formed Continental Resources, today a company with a $37 billion annual payroll and the largest leasehold in the oil-rich Bakken formation of North Dakota and Montana.
"I don't know how to describe his innate business sense. He doesn't have any formal education in terms of business practices or business philosophy," said Michael "Mickey" Thompson, executive director of the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance (DEPA), an organization that Thompson co-founded with Hamm.
How does Hamm influence Romney? Thompson says he sees Hamm when Romney talks about giving states more say in environmental regulation. Romney wants the states to take over control of energy development on federal lands.
Cutting back on federal environmental regulation is a big theme in Hamm's world at DEPA, where he serves as chairman.
"We are not radical about it. We are not trying to overthrow the government. We are not even in the Tea Party," Thompson said. "We understand the essential role the federal government plays in many aspects of our society and lives. But environmental regulation, by in large, is just not one of them."
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