April 6, 2018 / 4:05 PM / 4 months ago

Embattled EPA chief's calendar shows industry had his ear

WASHINGTON, April 6 (Reuters) - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head 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.

The newly released records, obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project watchdog group through a Freedom of Information Act request, come as the White House probes ethics 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.

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 for a trip to Morocco where he promoted U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas – something outside the remit of an environmental regulator.

President Donald Trump has praised Pruitt’s work at the EPA for aggressively pursuing his agenda to roll back regulations he sees as unnecessary to pave the way for more oil, gas, and coal production and remove hurdles for a revival in domestic manufacturing. Trump on Thursday said Pruitt was doing a “fantastic job” and was well-loved in “coal and energy country.”

According to the calendar, Pruitt met with representatives of the industries EPA regulates at least 105 times from Feb. 22 to Aug. 10, 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 – including executives from companies like oil major BP, refining giant Valero Energy Corp, coal producer Murray Energy, and miner BHP Billiton, according to the records.

Most of the rest of the 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.

By contrast, Pruitt met only four times with environmental groups eager to see the EPA limit pollution from those industries - 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 – according to the records.

Past EPA administrators have been criticized for spending too much time with environmental lobby groups, and too little with industry.

An EPA spokesman, Jahan Wilcox, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the balance of Pruitt’s meetings.

Liz Purchia Gannon, a spokeswoman for former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, who served under 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. (Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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