Participants at a meeting of oil industry executives and lobbyists can be heard laughing uproariously at boasts related to “unprecedented access” to the White House in a secretly recorded tape that was obtained by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.
The recording was made as some 100 executives of the Independent Petroleum Association of America gathered at a hotel in southern California the summer of 2017 to celebrate their new federal clout. They also hailed the rise of one of their own: oil and gas lobbyist David Bernhardt, picked by Donald Trump for the No. 2 post at the Department of the Interior, according to Reveal.
The gleeful boasting about a direct path to the very heart of the White House was revealed on the hour-long tape, a portion of which was played on the Reveal podcast aired Friday (which can be downloaded above).
Bernhardt, who became the acting head of the department after his boss, Ryan Zinke, stepped down amid a flurry of scandals and investigations, has confirmation hearings this week to become the Interior secretary.
Dan Naatz, the IPAA’s political director, said of Bernhardt at the recorded meeting: “David is a friend of mine. We know him very well, and we have direct access to him, have conversations with him about issues ranging from federal land access to endangered species.”
Barry Russell, CEO of the group, noted that Bernhardt helped the IPAA fight the federal endangered species act. “The guy that actually headed up that group is now the No. 2 at Interior, so that’s worked out well,” he said.
He also boasted about upcoming meetings with Zinke and Scott Pruitt, who was head of the Environmental Protection Agency at the time (and also forced out by scandal).
“Next week I’m invited to the White House to talk about tax code,” he added in the tape. “So we have unprecedented access to people that are in these positions who are trying to help us, which is great.”
Russell noted on the tape that at a meeting he already had with Pruitt, the EPA head asked him “questions about methane, about ozone … What was really great is there were about four or five EPA staffers there, who were all like, ‘Write that down, write that down.’ When we left, I said that was just our overview.”
The audience laughed heartily.
The industry’s White House clout has led to major benefits for the IPAA, which has already won four out of five priorities on a “wish list” detailed at the meeting, reports Reveal’s Lance Williams. Those include lifting restrictions on fracking on federal lands, lifting limits on methane gas releases, the abandonment of requirements to restore public lands damaged by oil operations, and cutting protections for migratory birds killed by energy operations, notes Williams.
Interior Department spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort told Reveal that Bernhardt “has had no communication or contact with either Barry Russell or Dan Naatz. IPAA hasn’t commented.