POLITICS
04/23/2018 12:41 am ET Updated Apr 23, 2018

Pruitt Met With Lobbyist Linked To His Bargain Condo To Discuss EPA Activity

Lobbyist claimed he hadn't talked to EPA chief for "many months."

Despite initial denials to the contrary, a lobbyist linked to a bargain Washington, D.C., condo where Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt was staying last year did meet with Pruitt in his office to discuss EPA activity, the lobbyist acknowledged.

He also communicated with the EPA early this year, according to documents from his own company.

Pruitt is being investigated over a sweetheart deal that allowed him to spend just $50 a night for him and sometimes his daughter to stay in a Capitol Hill condo. His landlord was Vicki Hart, wife of prominent energy and food company lobbyist J. Steven Hart. A copy of Pruitt’s lease first included Steven Hart’s name as the landlord, which was scratched out and replaced by his wife’s name.

Scott Pruitts lease

When the eyebrow-raising deal was initially uncovered, Hart said he hadn’t spoken to Pruitt for “many months,” and had no lobbying contact with the EPA in 2017 or 2018. 

But Hart, who was chairman and CEO of powerhouse lobbying firm Williams & Jenson at the time, met last summer in Pruitt’s office to discuss EPA protections for the Chesapeake Bay. He was also a registered lobbyist for Smithfield Foods in the first quarter of 2018 and lobbied the EPA on the company’s behalf early this year, according to new disclosure documents filed by Williams & Jenson on Friday. The documents were submitted just hours after Hart announced he was taking early retirement.  

Hart insisted, however, that his company’s filings were “inaccurate.” A spokesman confirmed Hart did meet with Pruitt in 2017 and emailed the EPA this year. But he said in a statement Saturday to The Hill that he did so to assist a “friend” on the Chesapeake Bay Commission. “I was not paid for this assistance, and any suggestion that I lobbied for Smithfield Foods is inaccurate,” he added, an assertion that appeared to be backed up by Smithfield Foods.

Hart’s “friend” was Dennis Treacy, a former Smithfield Foods executive now on the board of the Smithfield Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Commission, The Washington Post reported. Hog and pork producer Smithfield Foods has been supporting Chesapeake Bay environmental protections since it was fined $12.6 million in 1997 for dumping pig waste from its industrial farm into a waterway leading to the bay.

Regardless of who Hart was representing or what was discussed, the fact remains that Hart did meet with Pruitt and reach out to the EPA while the EPA chief was renting from his wife, contradicting Hart’s initial assertions.

Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

At the time Pruitt was renting from his wife, Hart’s company was also representing Cheniere Energy Inc., which is the only exporter of liquified natural gas from the continental U.S. Pruitt touted that very fuel on his controversial trip last year to Morocco. Pruitt and seven aides (at a cost of $40,000) spent four days in Morocco in December touting the benefits of liquified natural gas, according to an EPA press release. The trip was slammed by environmental groups and Democrats as having absolutely nothing to do with EPA’s mission to protect the environment.

The EPA’s ethics office initially signed off on Pruitt’s condo rental but has since issued a statement that officials lacked pertinent facts. The deal is one of several ethical and spending issues currently plaguing the head of the EPA.

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