New evidence emerged Friday and Saturday revealing how U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt's close relationships with industry leaders and lobbyists might impact his environmental decisions.
On Friday, the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen disclosed evidence that its former chairman J. Steven Hart, whose wife rented a Washington, DC condo to Pruitt, did in fact lobby the EPA on behalf of three clients during Pruitt's tenure despite his denials, The Hill reported.
Then, on Saturday, The New York Times broke the news that Pruitt had attended a University of Kentucky basketball game in December in special, front-and-center seats belonging to coal billionaire Joseph W. Craft III, whose close relationship with Pruitt had not been previously examined.
Hart, who stepped down from Williams & Jensen in April, told E&E news in March that he did not lobby the EPA in 2017 or 2018. But lobbying disclosures released hours after his departure revealed he did contact the EPA to lobby for Smithfield Foods during that period.
In Friday's disclosures to the Senate, the firm revealed further that Hart did more for Smithfield Foods that previously believed and also contacted the EPA on behalf of Coca-Cola and the Financial Oversight and Management Control Board of Puerto Rico.
The new information turned up after Williams & Jensen hired Jan Baran at Wiley Rein to review Hart's schedule and communications, as well as the firm's disclosure filings, from 2017 and the first three months of 2018, to make sure the firm was accurately disclosing Hart's activity.
Hart and others lobbied the EPA for Coca-Cola on "environmental issues impacting the beverage industry; clean water supply and water conservation," according to the updated disclosures.
The EPA told The Hill that the inclusion of Coca-Cola was an error.
"This meeting involving Coca-Cola and their clean water steward did not occur," EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement. "The request was submitted and it went unfilled."
The disclosures said that lobbying by Hart and others for Coca-Cola to the EPA and other government agencies and Capital Hill also included "general market access issues in foreign countries; Commerce 232 investigations, including re: aluminum" and "[e]nvironmental issues impacting the beverage industry, including hydroflourocarbon replacement; commodity pricing legislation."
In 2017, Hart also lobbied the EPA for more potable water for Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, on behalf of the Financial Oversight and Management Control Board of Puerto Rico.
Even if he wasn't an official lobbyist, coal executive Craft's close ties to Pruitt suggest fossil-fuel industry influence on key deregulatory moves such as October's repeal of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which Pruitt announced in Craft's hometown of Hazard, Kentucky with Craft in the audience. Craft also served on the board of an industry group that urged the EPA to postpone enforcement of a rule preventing coal plants from dumping toxic metals into rivers, a request Pruitt honored in September, The New York Times reported.
The New York Times further uncovered the fact that Pruitt had met with Craft at least seven times during the first 14 months of his tenure at the EPA, more than he met with any environmental advocate. The two are close enough to be on texting basis, and their relationship has deep roots: Craft was a major donor to Pruitt's state government campaigns in Oklahoma.
Heath Lovell, vice president for public affairs at Craft's company Alliance Resource Partners, told The New York Times that Pruitt paid "market value" for the basketball tickets.
The game was not included on Pruitt's official calendar, but was videotaped and mentioned in university communications requested by The New York Times through public records requests. According to those communications, Kentucky state police provided additional security for Pruitt during the trip, backing up his own detail.
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