While it’s no secret the nation’s top environmental official, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, has long held an affinity for the fossil fuel industry, a new report details just how close he has become to one particular billionaire coal baron.
Pruitt saw coal executive Joe Craft at least seven times in his first 14 months as administrator, plus two additional scheduled appearances — more meetings than Pruitt has had with any environmental group, the New York Times detailed in an extensive report Saturday.
Pruitt and his son even enjoyed one of the biggest University of Kentucky basketball games of the season from Craft’s plum seats last December. The EPA says Pruitt paid cash for the tickets, but he was accompanied by his own security detail as well as Kentucky state police. (Pruitt’s personal security cost taxpayers $3.5 million in his first year alone — far more than his predecessors.)
Craft, the head of Alliance Resource Partners, crusaded against the Obama administration’s efforts to curb pollution and environmental destruction caused by the coal industry. He has claimed the science behind climate change isn’t settled, saying in a 2010 interview, “there is significant debate about the science, and the gravity of the issues we’re facing.”
Craft and his wife, Kelly Craft, donated more than $2 million to Trump’s campaign and inauguration. Trump appointed Kelly Craft ambassador to Canada last October. She told the CBC at the time that she appreciates and respects “both sides” of the climate change debate, and defended Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate agreement.
Pruitt and Craft first met in the mid-2000s, according to the Times report, but the relationship has really paid dividends for the coal baron in the past year. Pruitt announced the repeal of Obama’s signature climate plan in Craft’s hometown, with Craft in the audience. “A month earlier, Mr. Pruitt postponed enforcement of a rule barring coal-powered plants from dumping toxic metals into rivers, a move requested by a coal industry group with Mr. Craft on its board,” the Times reported.
The EPA administrator and coal baron even exchange text messages, “with Mr. Craft proposing in one July 2017 exchange a possible ‘long-awaited’ dinner and another visit with his company’s executives.”
Craft and other coal executives have asked the Trump administration to roll back at least eight Obama-era rules regulating coal industry pollution — almost all of which affect the 30 plants that burn Alliance coal.
However, no matter how badly these coal companies want to believe the greatest threat to their fortunes is the regulations imposed by the previous administration, experts are quite clear in their assessment that coal isn’t coming back.
The Trump administration seems dead-set on going to extraordinary lengths to keep the industry on life support regardless.
On Friday, the president ordered the Department of Energy to look into ways to keep coal and nuclear plants from retiring. A memo obtained by Bloomberg News details an administration proposal to exercise emergency authority to force grid operators to buy electricity from coal and nuclear plants at risk of retirement. The unprecedented intervention has been advocated by pro-coal politicians like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and coal baron Robert Murray.