POLITICS

Oil Execs Chortle Over 'Unprecedented' Access To Trump Officials In Secret Recording

One speaker in the 2017 tape boasts of a petroleum group's links to David Bernhardt, who is now the acting Interior chief.

Participants at a meeting of oil industry executives and lobbyists can be heard laughing uproariously at boasts related to “unprecedented access” to key Trump administration officials in a secretly recorded tape obtained by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The recording was made as some 100 executives of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) gathered at a hotel in Southern California in 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, who had been picked by President Donald Trump for the No. 2 post at the Department of the Interior.

The gleeful boasting about a direct path to the very heart of the Trump administration was disclosed on the hour-long tape, a portion of which was played on the Reveal podcast that aired Friday (which can be downloaded above).

Bernhardt, who this January became the acting head of Interior after his boss, Ryan Zinke, stepped down amid a flurry of scandals and investigations, has confirmation hearings this week to become the department’s permanent 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, the association’s CEO, said 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 has since been forced out by scandal).

“So we have unprecedented access to people that are in these positions who are trying to help us, which is great,” Russell added on the tape. 

He noted that at a meeting he had already had with Pruitt, the then-EPA head had asked him “questions about methane, about ozone ... What was really great as 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, Reveal’s Lance Williams reported. Those are the 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, according to Williams.

Interior Department spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort told Reveal that Bernhardt “has had no communication or contact with either Barry Russell or Dan Naatz.” The IPAA didn’t comment to Reveal.

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