Three members of President Trump’s Cabinet attended the meeting of a major mining lobbying group at a Washington hotel owned by the president himself, according to a schedule of the event obtained by The Washington Post.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was initially scheduled to attend, but according to the department’s deputy communications director, Russell Newell, he “is traveling and so was unavailable for the meeting.” Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt attended Wednesday in his place.
On Tuesday morning, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross headlined a general session. In the afternoon, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta spoke with NMA members during a lunch sponsored by Jennmar Corp. and Royal Gold, a mining-equipment maker and precious metals company, respectively.
And on Wednesday morning, Energy Secretary Rick Perry spoke at a breakfast sponsored by Komatsu Mining Corp., a mining division of a Japanese conglomerate, posting about his speech on Twitter.
Top-level Obama administration officials — including Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Energy Secretary Steven Chu — have attended the association’s meetings in the past, NMA spokesman Luke Popovich said.
Beyond that, NMA had “no comment on the board of directors meeting which, like virtually all such gatherings, is a private affair and its business confidential,” Popovich wrote in an email.
Aides to Ross, Acosta and Perry all confirmed that the secretaries went to the meeting.
The chief executives of some of the biggest U.S. mining firms chose to host the meeting at Trump’s hotel during a time when his administration is rolling back dozens of Obama-era regulations that the industry opposed.
Money made by Trump International Hotel, which is located in a federally owned building, go into a trust in Trump’s name, fueling accusations that Trump is profiting from the presidency. Trump receives no direct proceeds from the Washington hotel business while in office, but according to a financial filing, the president can draw money from the trust “at his request.”
Several chief executives leading NMA member companies — including Bob Murray, who runs Murray Energy, and Joe Craft, who runs Alliance Resource Partners — raised money during the 2016 election for Trump, who ran on a platform of cutting back regulations to create jobs.
In September, for example, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, an agency in the Labor Department, proposed relaxing rules for inspections at mines for salt and other materials. At the time, NMA praised the decision as “a step in the right direction.”
“The Department of Labor works closely with stakeholders to ensure the safety and health of every American miner,” a Labor Department official said on Wednesday.
And in August, Trump’s Interior Department stopped a National Academies of Sciences study on the local health risks of mountaintop coal mining that the industry group said “may be unnecessary.”
Along with Zinke, EPA chief Scott Pruitt was also not listed on the schedule. But Pruitt had already traveled out of Washington to another NMA meeting in April at a Ritz-Carlton golf resort in Naples, Fla.
A bevy of Republican lawmakers from Western states also went to the two-day meeting in Washington this week. They include the high-profile chairs of committees overseeing federal energy and environmental policy, such as House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop (Utah), Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.) and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).