Trump officials have taken actions that closely resemble measures contained in drafts of half a dozen executive orders and other proposals submitted by coal tycoon Robert E. Murray in the early days of the administration, according to documents released by the Energy Department.
In two instances, the Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency took steps within a month similar to Murray’s ideas to roll back what he called “anti-coal” policies.
The Energy Department recently drew up a plan also advocated by Murray to impose a state of emergency to avoid the closure of ailing coal and nuclear plants.
The Environmental Protection Agency has taken steps to revoke or alter some of the other regulations Murray wanted changed, though some of his proposals have not been adopted and he is not the only coal executive to seek federal assistance.
In letters and a meeting with Energy Secretary Rick Perry on March 28, 2017, the Murray Energy chief executive urged the rollback of “anti-coal” measures, called on President Trump to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, proposed legislation that would fill in $7 billion of pension shortfall with federal tax dollars and requested the curtailment enforcement by mine regulators.
Murray has been a major donor to the Trump campaign and GOP political activities.
Murray’s meeting with Perry, some portion of the documents and the substance of his requests have been widely reported. But the new documents released confirm reports of Murray’s influence and the alignment of his interests with the Trump administration’s.
A March 23, 2017, memo from Murray asked that the Energy Department “issue an emergency directive to have an immediate study done of the security and resiliency of our electric power grids.” On April 14 last year, Perry directed his chief of staff to produce a study “to explore critical issues central to protecting the long-term reliability of the electric grid,” within 60 days.
One of the March 28, 2017, proposed executive orders called on the EPA to suspend and review a 2015 rule limiting the release of toxic metals from power plants into waterways. On April 13, 2017, Pruitt announced he would “review and reconsider” the rule.
In an email statement Wednesday, Murray Energy’s senior corporate counsel Gary M. Broadbent said that the company’s chief executive provided the documents to Perry “in an effort to assist in the reversal of the illegal, job-killing, anti-coal regulations of the Obama Administration.”
Broadbent said in the email that Murray “has always sought to secure reliable, low-cost electricity for all Americans, as well as to preserve and protect the jobs and family livelihoods of thousands of coal mining families. We applaud the actions taken by President Trump’s Administration, to date, to protect these jobs and to advance the energy security of the United States.”
The newly released documents also include emails to arrange the meeting between Perry and Murray, confirming that Andrew Wheeler, later appointed deputy administrator at the EPA, helped arrange the meeting as a lobbyist for Murray Energy.
In one March 28, 2017, email, Wheeler also asks an Energy Department official about the status of a separate meeting request he made for Energy Fuels, a uranium mining company that could benefit from an announcement President Trump made nearly nine months later to halve the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
The document release comes days after Trump ordered the Energy Department to come up with ways to keep ailing coal and nuclear plants from closing.
Murray Energy and one of its main customers, FirstEnergy, have asked the administration to use wartime measures to protect coal and nuclear plants.
The Energy Department recently drew up a long memo proposing just that; it was debated in meetings last week by the National Security Council and the cabinet deputies.