Former top Trump environmental officials Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke, both forced out of their jobs last year under the weight of, for each, an absurdly large number of ethics scandals, have now resurfaced, with each accepting influence-peddling jobs in industries they previously regulated. The two also appeared jointly at a recent Texas Republican event and demonstrated that each man remains utterly shameless.
Former EPA head Pruitt and ex-Interior Secretary Zinke each seemed, from their conduct in office, to view their Trump post as an entitlement to grab first-class perqs, from Pruitt sending staff members to pick up a special moisturizing lotion, to Zinke charging taxpayers for unnecessary charter flights. Each also shaped policies to please polluting industries and punished agency staff who objected.
Each man left with multiple investigations pending. Pruitt’s resignation effectively ended at least some of the EPA inspector general probes into him, including over his budget-priced rental in a townhouse owned by a lobbyist’s wife and his leveraging of his EPA status to seek a Chick-fil-A franchise for his own wife. Meanwhile, the Justice Department has reportedly been looking into whether Zinke lied to the Interior inspector general, who has been examining Zinke’s discussions with potential partners in a Montana real estate deal and his oversight of a proposed Connecticut tribal casino project.
Both Pruitt and Zinke continue to proudly echo Trump’s attacks on those who believe the government should be moving urgently to address the dangers of climate change.
President Trump, flanked by Ryan Zinke, Mike Pence, Rick Perry, and Scott Pruitt. Credit: White House, public domain
And neither of these Denial Twins appears to have taken his scandal-driven departure as a moment for reflection or repentance.
Pushing through the revolving door, Pruitt has been hired by Hallador Energy Co., parent company of Indiana coal mining business Sunrise Coal LLC, to lobby the Indiana legislature. Hallador wants lawmakers to compel the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to block state utilities from shutting down most of their coal-fired power plants. Hallador confirmed Pruitt’s hiring over the weekend, after the Indianapolis Star reported that Pruitt had registered in Indiana as a lobbyist for RailPoint Solutions, a shadowy company connected to Sunrise.
Federal law makes it a crime for former officials to engage in certain efforts to influence their former agencies for one year, two years, or a lifetime, depending on the circumstances. Under President Trump’s executive order on ethics, former officials are prohibited from lobbying their former agencies on any matter for five years.
Nothing in those federal rules, though, stops Pruitt from lobbying the Indiana state legislature. But Hallador says Pruitt will be lobbying for a provision that would bar the state’s utility commission from taking into account EPA rules, such as the Obama Clean Power Plan, that are in the process of being dismantled by the Trump administration. Especially in that regard, Pruitt can be seen as not only drawing on his EPA expertise, but also flaunting and trading on credentials and ties he built as a taxpayer-funded public servant. Hallador’s press release is entitled “Scott Pruitt, Former Administrator of the EPA to Defend Indiana Rate Payers.”
Meanwhile, as the AP first reported last week, Ryan Zinke has accepted a job with Nevada-based U.S. Gold Corp, a gold-mining company that’s seeking Interior Department approval for projects on federal land. Zinke will receive $114,000 a year in cash and stock as a board member and consultant to U.S. Gold Corp, plus as much as $120,000 in expenses.
Zinke insists his work for U.S. Gold Corp. won’t constitute lobbying. “I don’t lobby,” Zinke told the AP. “I just follow the law, so I don’t talk to anybody on the executive side or influence” anyone. But Edward Karr, the company’s CEO, in explaining to AP why he hired the former secretary, cited Zinke’s “excellent relationship” with Interior and its Bureau of Land Management. Karr said the company was “excited to have Secretary Zinke help move us forward” on two mining projects it’s pursuing, one of which, apparently, would be on land controlled by Interior, where Zinke’s former subordinates still work.
Zinke also already had become a “senior advisor” at Turnberry Solutions, a D.C. corporate influence-peddling firm that includes Corey Lewandowski and other former Trump aides. A Turnberry partner told Politico that Zinke was likely to register to lobby, and Zinke stated that he looked forward “to helping companies navigate the Washington, DC bureaucracy.”
Both Trumpsmen-turned-lobbyists were on display last month at the Dallas County Republican Party annual Reagan Day Dinner (video). Rafael Cruz, Ted’s dad, introduced the two men, proclaiming that, under the Trump administration, “the yoke of bondage has been taken away from our businesses.”
Moderator Jacki Deason, from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, noted that the discussion had to be brief because one of the two men had to catch a flight. She began by asking them about the challenges President Trump faced in “taking down or controlling the deep state.”
Pruitt dished some of the Trump insider information that the GOP audience supposedly craved. He claimed that Trump told him EPA was “the second most important agency after the Department of Defense.” Zinke later felt compelled to say that Trump said the same to him about Interior.
Both men might have been telling the truth there.
Pruitt told the crowd that, under President Obama, EPA had been “weaponized” against the fossil fuel industries. He insisted that his EPA had, in fact, done a better job protecting the environment than the Obama team. He praised Trump’s “tremendous decision” to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, because that agreement “was not about CO2 reduction.” He said that we — America — “do more for the environment than the rest of the world does” because we’re exporting coal and liquid natural gas, and that’s good for air quality.
Manspread across his upholstered chair, Zinke, who has been tied to shady political fundraising operations, tried to turn his comments into a mini-campaign rally.
He bragged about increased U.S. oil production under the Trump administration, an attempted applause line that did draw some applause. He said that the Republican Party is the party of the environment and that the Democrats “are willing to ensure the forests burn down, they are willing to pollute our oceans, they are willing to do anything for power.”
Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke speak at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Credit: Zach D. Roberts for DeSmog
“You have some radical environmental groups,” Zinke warned, that want “to stop access” to federal lands, they want to “prevent you from using your land… to bubble wrap public land and let you look at it, but they don’t want you on it…. They’re for preservation at all costs.” Zinke revived his effort to blame environmentalists for the recent California forest fires.
“We know,” he continued, “what the opposition wants, because they’ve said it: a vision of open borders, a vision of infacide [sic]… it’s a vision of 16-year-olds voting, a vision of socialism.”
Zinke offering his own catnip for the Trump worshippers in the crowd, giving a fawning description of Trump’s erratic approach to speechmaking, as contrasted with the hyper-organized Mike Pence. Zinke praised the messy Trump as a “disrupter,” “the most unique president in the history of this country,” and finally “a hoot, but he’s our president.”
While Zinke and Pruitt now preen in public and, on behalf of big corporations, shamelessly peddle the influence they acquired on the taxpayer dime, their former agencies are being run by their much less flamboyant, more detail-oriented, but no less conflicted ex-deputies: at EPA, former coal and utility lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, and at Interior, former energy, mining, and agribusiness lobbyist David Bernhardt, already under investigation by his agency’s inspector general for his own conflicts of interest in office.
Voters who actually believed Donald Trump would drain the DC swamp should look into this stuff. Trump has stocked his cabinet and government with former lobbyists, or with grandiose politicians who cash out and become lobbyists when they leave. To borrow a phrase from our president, it’s a total disgrace.
Main image: President Donald Trump, with then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, in 2017. Credit: U.S. Department of Interior, public domain