Couple Who Rented Condo to Pruitt Tried to Get Friend Hired at EPA
New emails uncovered by a Sierra Club lawsuit show that lobbyist J. Steven Hart, whose wife rented a condo to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt for $50 a night, had a closer relationship with the EPA than either has previously admitted, The New York Times reported Sunday.
In emails sent to Pruitt's Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson during and after Pruitt rented his wife's condo, Hart tried to influence EPA hiring decisions and lobbied on behalf of Coca-Cola and HSBC.
"These emails make clear that Scott Pruitt got a sweetheart deal from a lobbyist with business before the EPA and then blatantly lied to the American people about it," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune told ABC.
Pruitt is currently subject to 13 federal investigations into his spending habits, two of which involve the condo he rented from the Harts from when he first arrived in Washington, D.C. in early 2017 through to July of that year.
In an email dated April 2017, Hart tried to urge the EPA to hire Jimmy Guiliano, a family friend and recent college graduate who had applied for a position at the EPA. The email also proves that Vicki Hart herself had raised the issue with Pruitt.
"[Vicki] has talked to Scott about this kid who is important to us. He told Vicki to talk to you about how to handle this," Hart wrote, according to The New York Times.
"On it," Jackson responded.
Hart followed up in May asking if Jackson would have time to meet with Guiliano, but Jackson did not respond. An EPA spokesperson said that Guiliano was not ultimately hired by the agency.
In August 2017, Hart also suggested three candidates for the EPA's Science Advisory Board recommended b Smithfield Foundation President Dennis Treacy. The names were redacted in the emails. He also recommended a candidate for another job, also suggested by Treacy, who was not ultimately hired, according to Pruitt spokesperson Jahan Wilcox.
Hart also engaged in more traditional lobbying. In August 2017, he emailed Jackson on behalf of Coca-Cola, urging the EPA not to regulate hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are partly responsible for depleting the ozone layer.
"Some large U.S. companies like Coca-Cola have to make long-term investment decisions relating to their refrigerated beverage machines," Mr. Hart said, according to The New York Times. "There are all sorts of technical issues that arise when you get rid of HFCs. One is consumer safety. I kept hearing that the replacement technology had some problems—exploding vending machines. Thoughts?"
In May 2017, he also tried to set up a meeting between Jackson and an HSBC executive about the Paris agreement.
Following the emails' release, Hart continued to insist there was nothing inappropriate about his relationship with Pruitt and the EPA."As I have said repeatedly, I never received any special treatment from Administrator Pruitt or had any undue influence over the Environmental Protection Agency," he said in a statement to ABC News. "Ryan Jackson is an old friend whom I have known for many years prior to his service with the EPA. We have discussed numerous issues and topics during his tenure as chief of staff, but he has never performed a special favor on my behalf." Jackson, Hart and Pruitt are all from Oklahoma.
Wilcox also defended the relationship. "Many of these emails were unsolicited and did not impact any agency policy outcomes," Wilcox said, according to The New York Times.