The new CEO at Neumann Systems Group has a national profile and a conservative record from serving 16 years in Congress. And he plans to use his experience running a consulting firm to market Neumann’s coal-scrubber and other products.
Todd Tiahrt was named CEO of the local company earlier this week, replacing founder Dave Neumann in dealing with the company’s daily operations. Neumann will remain as the chairman of the board, majority owner and president.
After a recent illness, Neumann decided it was time to step back and allow someone with a higher profile to take charge of the company.
“I’m still going to be involved,” he said. “We were looking for a CEO, someone with national stature to move the company forward, a guy in a position to understand the national implications of what the Sierra Club is trying to do as far as jobs and the economy.”
Neumann said a recent heart problem accelerated the move to hire a new CEO. He chose Tiahrt because of his stance on jobs and the economy as a Kansas congressman.
“He’s a new weapon in the national war against those who want to eradicate fossil fuels,” Neumann said.
Neumann Systems Group has found itself battling both the Sierra Club and some members of Colorado Springs City Council over its NeuStream clean-coal scrubber. While the NeuStream hasn’t been used at its full capacity, the Electric Power Research Institute gave the system a thumbs-up, saying it worked at 20 percent capacity. Colorado Springs Utilities is the partner on the project — and the sole customer, so far — and has paid about $121 million for the project. The technology, Neumann has said, uses less water, less electricity and far less space than traditional methods of removing sulfur dioxide from the air. It’s supposed to be more effective, removing 97 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions.
However, despite promising reviews and a green light from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, NeuStream has been targeted by those who want to close Martin Drake Power Plant, including the powerful Sierra Club.
Tiahrt says he isn’t worried about the political landscape, nor the controversy surrounding NSG.
“I believe in this company,” Tiahrt said. “And I believe in this product. It’s going to be great for the economy. I call it ‘green coal-technology’ — and once it’s fully implemented, the emissions will be cleaner than natural gas.”
“We can prove this product works,” he added. “And once people realize what it does — it’s a jobs generator and will clean the air as well — then they’ll embrace it.”
However, Neumann’s detractors say they aren’t swayed by the change in leadership.
“He has a product that hasn’t been proven to work,” said City Councilor Tim Leigh. “I stand by all my assertions. Utilities should never have gotten involved as a venture capitalist in a research and development project. It’s not Utilities business. They could bring in George Herbert Walker Bush III and it wouldn’t change the fact that we are breaking sacred principles. They want to privatize their gain, if there is any; and socialize the loss by making ratepayers pay for it.”
Tiahrt arrived in the Springs this week, learning more about the company he’s going to steer — and more about the politics surrounding the NeuStream product. He’ll have the support of Council President Scott Hente, a long-time champion of NeuStream.
“I trust Dave,” Hente said. “And I trust that he went out and got the best he could to run the company, someone who’s been a player on the national stage. That shows he cares about the direction of the company. I haven’t met [Tiahrt] yet, but I trust he can do the job.”
Hente said he wasn’t deterred by a recent study released by the Sierra Club. On that point, he and Tiahrt agree.
“Modeling — anyone can put anything in and show what they want,” Tiahrt said. “The Sierra Club paid the firm, and got the report they paid for. It’s not an objective, third-party study. They’ve used them before. This isn’t anything new; the Sierra Club is targeting power plants around the country. They don’t want us to use our own natural resources in an environmentally responsible way. Any pragmatic environmentalist would be in favor of the NeuStream.”
Tiahrt, a South Dakota native, earned a master’s in business administration from Missouri State University. He worked as a project manager for 14 years at Boeing, and was elected to Congress from 1995 to 2011. In the House, Tiahrt served on the Defense Appropriations Committee and House Select Intelligence Committee, and was founder and chairman of the House Economic Competitiveness Caucus. His record is conservative, and Tiahrt said he was a champion of business and job creation.
“I worked to get government out of the way of innovation,” he said. “And that’s what I’ll be doing here. I believe that once people understand that the Neumann products will be good for the city — it cleans up NOX and SOX, we’re working to clean up mercury and carbon dioxide. We even have a process to use fly ash to mine rare materials.”
Tiahrt’s congressional record shows he earned a 100 percent rating from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a conservative group that supports business needs.
His record on energy also reflects his political leanings. He voted against enforcing limits on global warming pollutions, no on tax credits for renewable energy and against investing in homegrown bio-fuel. He also voted against removing subsidies on oil and gas explorations and yes for authorizing construction of new oil refineries. He’s opposed to raising CAFÉ standards for automobiles and is in favor of drilling and developing in Alaska. He signed the “no climate tax pledge” from Americans for Prosperity, agreeing to vote against any legislation that taxes companies for greenhouse gases.
Neumann called Tiahrt a “leader, problem-solver and a strategic thinker of the highest order.”