Oil executives have been reveling in all of the access and influence they now have because President Donald Trump is in office. A recording of a meeting of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) obtained by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting shows executives bragging about how they can affect change in both Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency regulations after their former lawyer, David Bernhardt, was nominated to be the number two official at Interior.
“We know [Berndardt] very well, and we have direct access to him, have conversations with him about issues ranging from federal land access to endangered species, to a lot of issues,” Dan Naatz, IPAA’s political director said, in an hour-long recording of a June 2017 meeting.
Bernhardt is now up for a promotion: he is Acting Secretary of the Interior and is Trump’s nominee to replace former Interior chief Ryan Zinke.
“It’s really a new thing for us,” Barry Russell, CEO of IAPP said, bragging about his upcoming meetings with Trump officials. “For example, next week I’m invited to the White House to talk about tax code. Last week we were talking to [EPA] Secretary [Scott] Pruitt, and in about two weeks we have a meeting with [Interior] Secretary Zinke. So we have unprecedented access to people that are in these positions who are trying to help us, which is great.”
Russell also laughed recalling a meeting with then-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt where Pruitt’s staff wrote down Russell’s criticisms of the EPA.
“Scott Pruitt, he came from Oklahoma, and we have a lot of friends in common and I thought that’s what we were going to talk about, we did that for about three minutes,” Russell said. “And then he started asking very technical questions about methane, about ozone… And what was really great is there was about four or five EPA staffers there, who were all like, ‘Write that down, write that down,’ all the way through this. And when we left, I said that was just our overview.”
This prompted the audience to laugh at how easy it was for Russell to influence policy.
“So it’s really a new world for us and very, very helpful,” Russell concluded.
On the recording, the executives also discussed a “wish list” they drafted and gave to the administration detailing EPA regulations they wanted rolled back, including removing fracking regulations that protect water sources; limits on methane gas releases; restoration of publicly-owned land harmed by the oil industry and regulations to protect migratory bird populations. Each of those requests was granted.
Nada Culver, senior counsel for the Wilderness Society environmental group, told Reveal: “The IPAA’s wish list was granted as asked, in the executive order, and in the actions taken by the Department of the Interior. It pains me to say it.”
And, of course, with Bernhardt’s confirmation hearings approaching, groups like IAPP stand to gain even more as their access and influence within the Trump Administration grows.