Democracy Dies in Darkness

Energy and Environment

EPA chief Pruitt met with many corporate execs. Then he made decisions in their favor.

By Steven Mufson, Juliet Eilperin

September 23, 2017 at 2:13 PM

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt’s schedule has been made public for the first time. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt has met regularly with corporate executives from the automobile, mining and fossil fuel industries — in several instances shortly before making decisions favorable to those interest groups, according to a copy of his schedule obtained by The Washington Post.

There were, by comparison, only two environmental groups and one public health group on the schedule, which covers the months of April through early September.

It is the broadest public release of Pruitt's schedule and it adds to understanding about how he makes decisions.

On the morning of May 1, Pruitt met at EPA headquarters with the Pebble Limited Partnership, a Canadian firm that had been blocked by the agency in 2014 from building a massive gold, copper and molybdenum mine in Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed.

That afternoon, he met with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who also opposed the Obama administration's decision to invoke a provision of the Clean Water Act to block the mine, on the grounds that contamination could jeopardize the region's valuable sockeye salmon run.

A week and a half after the meetings, the two sides struck a legal settlement that cleared the way for the firm to apply for federal permits for the operation.

In a statement at the time, Pruitt said that the agreement "will not guarantee or prejudge a particular outcome, but will provide Pebble a fair process for their permit application and help steer EPA away from costly and time-consuming litigation."

A week after the administrator met with Pebble Limited Partnership, he met at EPA headquarters with Fitzgerald Truck Sales, the nation's largest manufacturer of commercial truck "gliders," which are truck bodies without an engine or transmission.

On Aug. 17, a little more than two months after meeting with Fitzgerald, Pruitt announced that he would revisit an October 2016 decision to apply greenhouse gas emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks to gliders and trailers,  saying he was making the decision following "the significant issues" raised by those in the industry.

Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said that the manufacturers of gliders have been using their products' lack of engines to evade stricter air pollution standards, which is why EPA issued its 2016 rule in the first place. "It is a classic special-interest loophole- one that would mean dirtier air and public health damage," he said.

President Trump said in mid-March that his administration would reexamine the fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks that President Barack Obama had approved. Pruitt then met with representatives of General Motors on April 26; the Auto Alliance, the industry's lobbying arm, on April 27; and Ford Motor Co. on May 23. The industry has been pressing for a rollback in the efficiency targets. In August, the EPA formally reopened the rules with an eye to relax them.

Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Auto Alliance, said in an email that "every EPA Administrator meets with the broad spectrum of stakeholder groups to hear their views. The previous administrator met with environmental groups calling for higher fuel economy standards, and then rushed the midterm review forward before the new president took office." She said that "this Administration has simply put the review process agreed upon by all participants back on track so all the relevant data can be gathered."

"As EPA has been the poster child for regulatory overreach, the Agency is now meeting with those ignored by the Obama Administration," EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said in an email Friday. "As we return EPA to its core mission, Administrator Pruitt is leading the Agency through process, the rule of law and cooperative federalism."

On April 24, Pruitt met with the executive committee of the National Mining Association, and the next day with representatives of rural cooperatives, whose rural and suburban customers rely largely on aging coal plants. He met with oil industry companies and associations, including Phillips 66, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers board; the American Petroleum Institute directors; and Magellan Midstream Partners, a petroleum pipeline and storage firm.

Earlier this month, Pruitt granted an industry coalition's request to revisit a 2015 EPA rule to tighten federal requirements for how companies contain coal ash, the toxic waste produced from burning coal in power plants. A range of the groups he met with this spring, including several of the nation's largest coal-fired utilities, had sought the regulatory change.

Pruitt met April 6 with FirstEnergy, an Ohio-based utility that has been looking for financial or regulatory relief to keep its aging coal plants from being shut down. The plants have been hard-pressed to meet mercury limits required under the Clean Air Act, and to compete with cheap natural gas and renewable energy.

He also met with a number of agriculture business groups, Boeing, General Electric and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

GE and Boeing were urging Pruitt to make fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards for aircraft and aircraft engines more stringent, said a source familiar with the meeting. GE makes efficient aircraft engines and Boeing is one of its biggest customers. The source asked for anonymity to protect business relationships.

Related: [At EPA, guarding the chief pulls agents from pursuing environmental crimes]

While most of Pruitt's meetings were at EPA headquarters, he has traveled around D.C. and the country to address industry boards and their broader membership behind closed doors. On April 24, he addressed the NMA's board of directors meeting in Naples, Fla. In May he spoke to the Portland Cement Association, the Large Public Power Council, American Iron and Steel, the American Exploration & Production Council and the board of directors and executive committee of the U.S. Oil & Gas Association in several locations around Washington.

The next month he addressed the board of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity and the National Turkey Federation in different spots in D.C., and on Aug. 10 he met with the Dallas chapter of the National Association of Homebuilders in Plano, Tex. He also addressed a group of social conservatives, the Council for National Policy, in McLean. Va, on May 19.

During the period covered by the schedule, from early April to mid-September, Pruitt consulted repeatedly with state and federal officials by phone or in person. Of the 19 governors he contacted, all but five were Republican.

One, West Virginia's Jim Justice was a Democrat at the time, but subsequently switched parties. Another, Puerto Rico's Ricardo Rosselló, who heads the island's New Progressive Party, which espouses statehood, was contacted after the commonwealth had been hit by Hurricane Irma.

While the administrator has devoted much of his time to meeting with industry representatives, he did meet with three environmental and public-health advocates in late May.

On May 24, he saw officials from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which backs stricter air-pollution standards; the next day, he met with Trout Unlimited.

On May 25, Pruitt met with Bob Perciasepe, who served as deputy administrator of the EPA for four and-a-half years under Obama and now heads the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.


Steven Mufson covers energy and other financial matters. Since joining The Post, he has covered the White House, China, economic policy and diplomacy. Follow @StevenMufson.

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's senior national affairs correspondent, covering how the new administration is transforming a range of U.S. policies and the federal government itself. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.

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