April 6, 2018 / 5:19 PM / 4 months ago

Embattled EPA chief's calendar shows industry had his ear

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt held 25-times more meetings with industry representatives than environmental advocates during his first seven months in office, according to a Reuters analysis of his schedule, reflecting the agency’s pro-business approach under his tenure.

FILE PHOTO: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during an interview at his office in Washington, U.S., July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

The newly released record of Pruitt’s schedule, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Environmental Integrity Project watchdog group, come as the White House probes allegations against Pruitt. These include his rental of a room in a Washington, D.C. condo owned by the wife of an energy industry lobbyist.

The pressure mounted late on Friday as 64 Democratic members of the 435-member House of Representatives called for President Donald Trump to immediately dismiss him over a host of ethics issues and for acting to counter the mission of his agency.

Three fellow Republicans in the House have also called on Pruitt to resign, but the EPA chief has widespread support from conservatives.

Pruitt, a vocal doubter of mainstream climate change science, has also faced criticism for frequent first-class air travel, spending on costly items in his office - including a $43,000 soundproof telephone booth - and a trip to Morocco where he promoted U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas, something outside the remit of an environmental regulator.

PRESIDENTIAL PRAISE

President Donald Trump has praised Pruitt for aggressively pursuing his agenda to roll back regulations he sees as unnecessary to pave the way for more oil, gas, and coal production as well as removing environmental hurdles to a revival in domestic manufacturing.

Trump on Thursday said Pruitt was doing a “fantastic job,” and was well-loved in “coal and energy country.” While Trump appears to support Pruitt, the president can change his mind quickly.

Last autumn, Trump said he had confidence in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, even after their relationship was strained over Iran and Russia policy. Trump fired Tillerson last month.

Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly had advocated last week for Trump to fire Pruitt, a White House official said. Trump met with Pruitt early on Friday, said the same official, who declined to say what the meeting concerned.

According to the calendar, Pruitt met with representatives of the industries EPA regulates at least 105 times from Feb. 22 to Aug. 10 of last year, making up about 77 percent of his total meetings during that period.

About half of those industry meetings were with representatives of the oil, gas, coal and mining industries, according to the records, including executives from companies such as oil major BP Plc (BP.L), refiner Valero Energy Corp (VLO.N), coal producer Murray Energy and miner BHP Billiton (BLT.L).

‘I PROSECUTE POLLUTERS’

Most of the rest of Pruitt’s industry meetings were with representatives of agriculture, including farm groups like the National Cattlemen’s Association, and biofuels producers like Growth Energy and POET, according to the records.

But Pruitt met only four times with environmental groups eager to see the EPA limit pollution from those industries, the records show - Trout Unlimited, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a nonprofit association of state environmental agency leaders called ECOS, and the Alliance to Restore Our Waterways.

Past EPA administrators have been criticized by conservatives for spending too much time with environmental lobbying groups and too little with industry.

Pruitt, a former attorney general of Oklahoma, said through a spokesman that he does not spend any time with polluters. “I prosecute polluters. What I’m spending time with are stakeholders who care about outcomes,” he said.

“It’s Washington, D.C.-think to look at folks across the country - from states to citizens to farmers and ranchers, industry in general - and say they are evil or wrong and we’re not going to partner with them,” Pruitt said.

Liz Purchia Gannon, a spokeswoman for former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, who served under Democratic President Barack Obama, said the ratio of Pruitt’s industry to environmental group meetings was a contrast to the ratio of meetings McCarthy held. McCarthy met frequently with utility groups while the agency worked to form the Clean Power Plan, Obama’s top proposal to curb greenhouse gas emissions, Gannon said.

“As head of EPA she always met with environmental and public health groups and industry and business leaders. She believed strongly in meeting regularly with all sides,” said Gannon, who did not provide data on the meetings.

Pruitt also held a number of meetings with conservative policy think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, and the Family Research Council, a religious group that argues that homosexual conduct is harmful to society, according to the records.

A portion of Pruitt’s schedule covering his first few months in office had already been released by the EPA, but the latest batch covers the broadest period so far.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner, Richard Valdmanis in Boston, and Steve Holland; editing by Bernadette Baum, Susan Thomas and G Crosse

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