An explosive recording obtained by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting shows a bunch of oil executives celebrating — and making jokes — about their “unprecedented access” to the Trump administration.
The recording comes from an event that was held in June 2017 at Southern California’s Ritz Carlton hotel, where oil developers — members of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) — had gathered to celebrate the meteoric rise of their longtime lawyer, David Bernhardt, who had at the time been given the powerful No. 2 position at the Department of the Interior by Donald Trump, according to Politico.
Bernhardt, whose appointment had been opposed by 150 environmental groups because of his career as a lobbyist for oil companies, was confirmed by the Senate despite an investigation showing that he had continued to lobby for Westlands Water District, a California agribusiness concern, for months after he had told Congress he had quit lobbying.
Since his appointment, Bernhardt has been instrumental in rolling back regulations enforced on the oil industry by the Obama administration, and it appears his colleagues at the IPAA expected him to do nothing less. Dan Naatz, the association’s political director, boasted about his connection with him, and the fact that he would help the industry get back on its feet.
“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, to a lot of issues,” Naatz said during the meeting.
Four of IPAA’s top five wishes have already been fulfilled by Bernhardt, including rolling back regulations on fracking, methane release, restoration of public lands, and long-standing protections for migratory birds.
.@DOIDepSec David Bernhardt at @Interior is the most conflicted of President Trump’s 31 cabinet-level nominees. Of them all, he has the highest number of previous clients and employers with business before his own department. #StopBernhardt https://t.co/WPnK3PYvJz— Natural Resources (@NRDems) March 19, 2019
Barry Russell, IPAA’s CEO, who had seen Bernhardt work hard for oil companies, celebrated this newfound access to the very heart of the administration. He said that having Bernhardt at the Interior Department meant that executives like himself had great access to former EPA chief Scott Pruitt and the then-Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke.
“It’s really a new thing for us,” he said.
“Last week we were talking to Secretary Pruitt, and in about two weeks we have a meeting with Secretary Zinke. So we have unprecedented access to people that are in these positions who are trying to help us, which is great.”
Later, Russell went on to tell his colleagues at the meeting about the kind of access Bernhardt’s appointment had given executives like him. When Russell spoke of a meeting he had with Scott Pruitt, the oilman’s anecdote elicited a wild round of laughter — probably at the ease with which the industry had been able to convince Donald Trump to roll back stiff regulations.
“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 if Scott Pruitt thought he was going to go deep nerd.”
It is at this point that the audience begins to cackle with laughter.
“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,” Russell continued. “And when we left, I said that was just our overview.”
The audience couldn’t control its laughter now.
“So it’s really a new world for us and very, very helpful,” he concluded.