Leaked Audio Exposes Oil & Gas Execs Laughing With Joy Over Cozy Access to Trump Officials

A newly-leaked audio recording reveals that oil and gas executives in a private meeting were “giddy” with laughter in the summer of 2017 as they rejoiced over the “unprecedented access” they were being given to the highest levels of the Trump administration, boasting about their ability to have closed-door meetings with top officials and the ascendance of their own industry colleagues to some of the most powerful seats of government.

Among the topics in the recording, reports Reveal at the Center for Investigative Reporting—which was provided the audio—the oil and gas executives who belong to the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) “are heard discussing David Bernhardt, now deputy secretary of the Interior and a former industry lobbyist.” Notably, Bernhardt—described by the executives in the recording as a close friend and industry operative—has now been nominated by President Trump to be the next Secretary of Interior, with his confirmation hearings scheduled for next week.

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Lance Williams, a senior reporter for Reveal, detailed the contents of the recorded June 2017 meeting, which took place inside a Ritz-Carlton hotel conference room in Southern California, with an extensive piece for Politico‘s weekend magazine published Saturday. Williams said the “recording gives a rare look behind the curtain of an influential oil industry lobbying group” congratulating itself on their political fortunes under a friendly administration.

Williams reports:

To a room full of laughter, IPAA’s CEO Barry Russell in the recording described one meeting with Scott Pruitt, the president’s EPA administrator at the time. What was expected to be a simple meet-and-greet, Russell explained, quickly became a friendly opportunity for the fellow industry insiders to provide Pruitt with a wish list for deregulation and agency rule changes. “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,” Russell stated. “And when we left, I said that was just our overview.”

Russell, with the room reportedly still laughing, subsequently bragged: “It’s really a new world for us and very, very helpful.”

Specifically, the IPAA and other allies were holding meetings during that period with the Interior Department, the EPA, and other agencies to reduce regulations on fracking, public lands restoration, methane restrictions, and species protection. From Politico:

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The leaked recording comes in the wake of reporting by journalist Andrew Perez of Maplight on Friday revealed that Bernhardt and the lobbying firm he once worked for, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, have donated almost a million dollars over the last five years to the very senators who will soon vote on his confirmation.

According to Perez:

Asked to comment on the audio recording of the IPAA meeting, Nada Culver, senior counsel for the Wilderness Society, told Politico that the lobby group’s access ultimately resulted in attaining much of what it wanted from the Trump administration. “The IPAA’s wish list was granted as asked, in the executive order, and in the actions taken by the Department of the Interior,” Culver said. “It pains me to say it.”

With Bernhardt’s confirmation hearing set for next week, environmental groups are rallying constituents to call their senators to reject the nominee.

 As Anne Hawke of the NRDC told her group’s members this week, “Bernhardt’s sorry record in protecting America’s natural resources, wildlife and waters makes him uniquely unfit for the job, and we urge you to call on lawmakers to reject his nomination.”

President Trump, the Hawke further warned, “is handing over the future of our public lands, wildlife, waters and all they support to a man who has made a living for decades attacking all of that to benefit some of the biggest industrial polluters on the planet.”

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