WASHINGTON — Scott Pruitt, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency who championed deregulation of the fossil fuel industry, is in discussions to work as a consultant to Kentucky coal mining tycoon Joseph W. Craft III.
Pruitt has remained largely out of the public eye since parting ways with the Trump administration in July under a cloud of ethics investigations into matters including his ties to fossil fuel industry executives with business before the agency.
Craft, the chief executive of Alliance Resource Partners and a major Republican donor, enjoyed a close relationship with the EPA during Pruitt’s tenure. Craft met with Pruitt at least seven times in Pruitt’s first 14 months at the agency and in December provided him with courtside seats at a University of Kentucky basketball game, a school where Craft is a prominent supporter.
The former EPA chief laid out his plans to develop a new consulting firm in one-on-one discussions with several executives during a Kentucky Coal Association meeting last week, according to industry officials familiar with Pruitt’s appearance and activities there. An executive with Craft’s company, Alliance Resources, confirmed the discussions in a statement Wednesday.
“Any discussions that occurred between Mr. Craft and Mr. Pruitt are preliminary, and do not involve him becoming an employee of Alliance Resource Partners,” said Heath Lovell, vice president for public affairs at Alliance, in the statement. “Obviously, any discussions would not involve lobbying the federal government.”
Under an ethics pledge imposed by President Donald Trump, Pruitt would be barred from directly lobbying the EPA for five years in any new role, but he would not be restricted from working as a private consultant advising the company on EPA related matters or working on the state level to influence regulatory policy.
One of the two executives familiar with Pruitt’s plans said that he would not be lobbying the federal government and would “not do anything inconsistent with his legal and ethical requirements.”
Pruitt, whose tenure at EPA was marked by secrecy and security, did not publicize his speech to the Kentucky Coal Association, and the trade organization did not list him on its website among its featured speakers. Tyler White, the president of the association, acknowledged Pruitt’s presence at the event after it was pointed out that he was photographed sitting with Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky.
The association invited Pruitt “because we strive to provide our membership with high quality speakers who have unique experience, knowledge or expertise on issues impacting our industry,” White said in a statement. “Also, as a native Kentuckian, we were especially proud to have him speak,” he said. White said Pruitt had not been paid to address the meeting.
His remarks there were among the first public comments Pruitt has made since leaving the Trump administration. Coal industry officials as well as some Oklahoma political leaders said they welcomed his re-entry into the regulatory arena.
“It makes sense,” said Dewey F. Bartlett Jr., an oil executive and former mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma. “I know Joe Craft and the coal industry feel that they’ve been unfairly targeted by the EPA and the various regulators, either state or federal, that oversee the coal mining industry. So working with a person like Scott Pruitt — who has given them, from their perspective, a fairer regulatory environment than the previous administration — would be a good fit.”
Democrats and environmentalists criticized Pruitt’s new role, while saying they weren’t surprised.
“Scott Pruitt has always been doing the dirty work for coal millionaires,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “The only difference is now he’ll be paid by them directly rather than ripping off the taxpayer.”
Cleta Mitchell, an attorney who represented Pruitt while he was at the EPA, did not return emails or phone calls seeking comment.
Both Craft and Pruitt are originally from Kentucky and later moved to Oklahoma, where Pruitt served in the state legislature and then as the state attorney general before he was nominated to take over the EPA. Alliance Resources is based in Tulsa.
As attorney general, Pruitt sought to protect the coal industry and coal-burning power plants from federal regulation. Craft was a financial supporter of Pruitt’s political causes. After Pruitt joined the EPA, he continued to advance policies that benefited the coal industry.
Separately on Wednesday, the EPA made public a long-delayed financial disclosure report for Pruitt covering 2017. That period includes the time when Pruitt was living in a Capitol Hill condominium he was renting from the spouse of an energy lobbyist for $50 a night, an arrangement that triggered one of several investigations into his actions and oversight at the agency.
The 2017 financial disclosure form does not list the Capitol Hill condo as a gift, a step that some suggested Pruitt might take, based on the widely held view he was paying below market value for the unit. (Previously, Pruitt has denied it was a below-market-value arrangement.)
At the time of the rental, Pruitt was the target of lobbying by the spouse of the condo’s co-owner, J. Steven Hart. Until earlier this year, Hart was the chairman of the Williams & Jensen lobbying firm.
The form does appear to address the condo question indirectly. The document states Pruitt was aware of allegations that “certain actions or activities during 2017” may constitute gifts that require inclusion in the disclosure report. “To the extent that I am aware of specific allegations, I dispute the facts asserted and, accordingly, am not aware of reportable gifts,” the document says. “In the event that there are any future findings to the contrary, I will address the issue at that time and amend this report as directed and/or as necessary.”
Pruitt could not be reached for comment and Mitchell did not respond to questions about the former administrator’s financial report.
The 2017 financial disclosure report (which covers only last year, not the part of 2018 when Pruitt still led the EPA) also shows that Pruitt’s wife, Marlyn Pruitt, earned between $15,000 and $50,000 over that time working as a consultant. During his time at the agency, Pruitt had asked senior aides to help his wife find employment as a consultant, which they did, helping her secure paid work for a conservative judicial group and New York nonprofit organization.
Pruitt’s requests to staff members to help his wife find work are the subject of investigations into his management of the EPA; asking federal government aides to help with personal financial matters may be a violation of federal rules.
The 2017 financial disclosure also lists as much as $300,000 in legal fees from two law firms, debts Pruitt did not have previously, and that likely reflect his need to hire legal assistance after he became the subject of investigations into his oversight and actions at the EPA.
Pruitt in the past has denied allegations of any wrongdoing. In his resignation letter to Trump he wrote, “the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.”
The former EPA administrator’s next career steps have been the source of interest particularly in Oklahoma, where he is seen as a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate or to be governor.