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Fancy dinners, far-flung speeches: Calendars detail EPA chief’s close ties to industry

During his seven months in office, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has filled his days meeting with executives from many of the companies he regulates, while all but sidestepping environmental and public health groups. But the face time with industry representatives has extended well beyond his Washington office.

On April 26, for example, Pruitt had lunch with executives from Southern, one of the nation’s biggest coal-burning utilities. They dined at Equinox, a restaurant near the White House, where the baby-carrot-and-red-beet salad with shrimp runs $28. Later that day, Pruitt met with senior leaders at Alliance Resource Partners, a major coal-mining operation, for a dinner at BLT Prime, a steakhouse in the Trump International Hotel, just across from EPA headquarters.

On other occasions, Pruitt traveled to a Ritz-Carlton golf resort in Naples, Fla., for a National Mining Association meeting; to another golf resort in Arizona to speak at a board meeting for the National Association of Manufacturers; and to a resort in Colorado to speak at an event organized by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The meals with company executives and other evidence of Pruitt’s close ties to industries his agency regulates were laid out in a detailed copy of Pruitt’s calendar obtained by the liberal nonprofit group American Oversight. The New York Times on Tuesday reported details from American Oversight’s Freedom of Information Act request.

The insights into Pruitt’s previously undisclosed meetings add to an already familiar story of how he has spent his time since becoming administrator in February. While EPA leaders traditionally talk with a broad array of stakeholders, Pruitt has overwhelmingly leaned toward meetings with corporate executives in industries regulated by the EPA, and in multiple cases he has quickly ruled in their favor on a range of issues. A more limited version of Pruitt’s schedule from April to September, obtained and reported last month by The Washington Post, showed that he often met with executives from the automobile, mining and fossil fuel industries while only rarely making time for environmental or public health groups.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 25 in Oxon Hill, Md. (Video: The Washington Post)

On the morning of May 1, for example, Pruitt met at EPA headquarters with the Pebble Limited Partnership. In 2014, citing concerns over the risk of contamination to a valuable sockeye-salmon run, the agency had blocked the Canadian company from building a massive gold, copper and molybdenum mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed.

Hours after that first meeting, Pruitt met with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who had opposed the Obama administration’s decision. Less than two weeks later, the EPA struck a legal settlement with the partnership that cleared the way for it to apply for federal permits for the operation.

In June, Pruitt met at EPA headquarters with representatives from Fitzgerald Truck Sales, the nation’s largest manufacturer of commercial truck “gliders” — truck bodies without an engine or transmission. Later in the summer, he announced that he would revisit an October 2016 decision to apply greenhouse-gas emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks to trailers and gliders. The decision was because of “the significant issues” raised by those in the industry, he said.

The latest calendars show other meetings with industry executives, many of whom have regulatory issues, involving large sums of money in potential costs, before the agency. They include representatives from Shell and chemical maker Chemours and lobbyists from the chemical industry, the egg-producers lobby and the farm bureau.

In an email Tuesday, EPA strategic-communications adviser Jahan Wilcox detailed a long list of “environmental, consumer protection and public health groups that the EPA has met with,” though it appears that most of the meetings involved officials other than Pruitt. The broader list provided by the EPA included the Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society, the American Lung Association and the National Environmental Health Association.

The truth is: EPA has met with over 25 consumer protection, public health and environmental groups,” Wilcox said in the email. “Additionally, Administrator Pruitt has been praised by the Galveston Bay Foundation and Texas Health and Environment Alliance for his work on cleaning-up toxic Superfund sites.”

During his first six months in office, according to public schedules, Pruitt himself met with representatives from three environmental and public health organizations: the American Academy of Pediatrics, Trout Unlimited and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

Agency officials noted that Pruitt’s predecessor, Gina McCarthy, said in January that she regretted that she and her deputies hadn’t convinced rural Americans that the agency was on their side. The officials also said that McCarthy met with a disproportionate number of Democratic officials and environmental activists as the Obama administration was crafting regulations aimed at curbing greenhouse-gas emissions and combating climate change.

EPA calendars show that McCarthy spent a large chunk of her time meeting with such groups, particularly throughout 2014. But she also met with a number of industry-backed interest groups, such as the American Gas Association, the Edison Electric Institute and the National Pork Producers Council.

In some cases, the just-released Pruitt calendar records provide new information on events that were vaguely worded in the previous public schedule. On May 11, according to the version released last month, Pruitt attended a “speaking engagement” in Colorado Springs. The new document shows that he spoke at the “Resource Bank” meeting of the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank. It also shows that since Pruitt was “invited to speak and present information on behalf of the agency,” his “acceptance of free attendance and any meals” at the event did not warrant financial disclosure.

Travel vouchers obtained by the Climate Investigations Center, an environmental advocacy group, said that that Heritage “will be paying for the Administrator’s lodging” at that conference.

Even the revised schedule, however, does not provide the full details of Pruitt’s activities. For example, the calendar shows that Pruitt attended “Earth Day Events” in Dallas on April 22 and that afterward he flew to Tulsa. But EPA travel vouchers show that Pruitt’s travel registry for that day indicate that he was to be in “Tulsa to conduct meetings in the state and to serve as a keynote speaker for ALEC event.” ALEC refers to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a state-based conservative group funded by a range of corporations and conservative activists.

“The EPA has tried very hard to keep Pruitt’s actual work quiet,” Climate Investigations Center Director Kert Davies said in an email. “It took a court order to get the details we learned today. . . . For Pruitt, it’s the same as it ever was, a lack of transparency and far too cozy connections with the industries he is supposed to be regulating.”

Read more at Energy & Environment:

EPA spending almost $25,000 to install a secure phone booth for Scott Pruitt

At EPA, guarding the chief pulls agents from pursuing environmental crimes

One of the most bizarre ideas about climate change just found more evidence in its favor

Rick Perry just proposed sweeping new steps to help struggling coal and nuclear plants

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