politics

Oil and Coal Executives Clamored for Time With Pruitt, Records Show

  • Industry leaders besieged Scott Pruitt with requests last year
  • New documents show EPA carefully controlled meetings, speeches

Scott Pruitt listens during a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing in Washington on April 26, 2018.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The pleas began almost as soon as Scott Pruitt became Environmental Protection Agency administrator: requests from oil executives, coal miners and energy lobbyists desperate to nab time with the newly confirmed regulator.

There were coal producers -- including Arch Coal Inc., Cloud Peak Energy Inc. and Contura Energy Inc. -- eager to talk to Pruitt about what one petitioner termed his "regulatory reform efforts" at the agency. Oil executives lined up too -- including Marathon Petroleum Corp. Chief Executive Officer Gary Heminger, Shell Oil Co. President Bruce Culpepper and John Watson, then the chief executive of Chevron Corp. And no fewer than five state-based oil and gas associations solicited Pruitt’s appearance at conferences and meetings.

The requests were revealed in more than 20,000 pages of email correspondence between top Pruitt aides and outside officials released in response to an open records request by the Sierra Club. Many of the requests are laced with praise or full of congratulations for Pruitt’s work to revise Obama administration pollution regulations.

The EPA chief, under fire for frequent travel, an unorthodox condo rental from a lobbyist and questionable agency spending decisions, has been the one of the most enthusiastic crusaders in President Donald Trump’s campaign against regulations.

Enthusiastic Thank-Yous

Industry leaders were not shy about expressing their gratitude. Renee Zentz, chief executive officer of the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs, which invited Pruitt to speak in Colorado, suggested a small private dinner with representatives from the energy industry and other sectors. "Our appreciation for Administrator Pruitt’s commitment to remove or reduce barriers to business cannot be fully expressed," Zentz said. "The idea of hosting a small private dinner or reception is only an effort to say thank you and maximize his trip to Colorado Springs.”

When Kinder Morgan Inc. Public Affairs Vice President Dave Conover asked about a meeting between Pruitt and two other company vice presidents last October, he took pains to highlight the pipeline operator’s ties to Tulsa, Oklahoma, the administrator’s home town. According to an email from Conover, the Kinder Morgan executives wanted to talk to Pruitt about pollution control requirements, the Superfund program, protections for the endangered American Burying Beetle and EPA’s participation in natural gas pipeline permitting.

Marathon Petroleum Corp. lobbyist Michael Birsic leveraged a relationship with one of Pruitt’s deputies to try to arrange a meeting for Heminger, his CEO, to talk about the U.S. biofuel mandate and air regulations.

To ensure Pruitt had direct access to executives at an April 18, 2017, event, Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association staff promised to "remove themselves from the meeting once it begins," according to an April 17 email. Among the planned attendees: Enbridge Inc. Vice President Brad Shamla, BP Lower 48 Senior Vice President Kyle Koontz, Halliburton Co. executive Eric Williams and Devon Energy Corp. Vice President Allen Wright.

Although industry interests dominate the correspondence, documents show state air regulators and environmentalists won some of Pruitt’s time too.

After Glenn Prickett, the co-chief external affairs officer of The Nature Conservancy, met with Pruitt during an Earth Day Texas event in 2017, he followed up with his thanks for being able to share the group’s views “on natural infrastructure, climate change and federal funding levels for conservation and the environment.”

Friendly Audiences

Many of Pruitt’s meetings with and speeches to industry representatives were carefully coordinated, with the apparent goal of ensuring a friendly audience and limiting surprises for Pruitt.

For instance, when he spoke to the American Petroleum Institute’s board of directors at the Trump International Hotel in March 2017, he was directed to use a private entrance on 12th Street.

Before an August 2017 meeting with Pruitt, coal miner Cloud Peak Energy representatives highlighted a “secure entry” as “a definite plus” that would “help facilitate a more honest conversation without the potential outside distractions of a public building.”

And staffers exchanged more than two dozen emails lining up details for Pruitt’s Oct. 19, 2017 address to a Texas Oil and Gas Association’s energy forum near Houston, with the association specifically identifying reporters who were slated to attend. EPA aides volunteered six questions for an on-stage Q&A touching on Pruitt priorities, his definition of “true environmentalism” and the role of EPA regulations in blocking new refinery construction.

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