Zinke and Pruitt push Trump agenda, talk climate in Dallas

Mike Lee, E&E News reporter

Published: Friday, March 22, 2019

DALLAS — Two of President Trump's former Cabinet members, both of whom resigned last year, are still campaigning for the president.

Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke praised the president's environmental and energy record yesterday and urged a crowd here to help re-elect him.

Democrats in Congress have tried to block Trump's agenda since taking control of the House of Representatives, Zinke told the audience at the Dallas County Republican Party's annual Reagan Day Dinner. When he left the Interior Department, several of its agencies didn't have full-time directors, he said, because Democrats "don't want this president to succeed."

"They are willing to ensure the forests burn down, they are willing to pollute our oceans, they are willing to do anything for power," he said. "It's going to take a Republican wave to fix it, and that wave, again, begins here in Dallas."

The Obama-era EPA had been "weaponized" against the oil, gas and coal industries, Pruitt said. The Trump administration was right to reverse that course and to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, he said, because it was unfair to American industries.

"What this administration is about is saying, 'We're not going to use the power of the federal government to penalize our people,'" Pruitt said.

Neither Zinke nor Pruitt mentioned the reasons they resigned from the Trump administration.

Pruitt left EPA last July facing allegations that he had misused his public office.

Several investigations were opened related to Pruitt's conduct at the agency, including by the EPA inspector general. Some of those IG reviews remain ongoing, while others have been closed, such as the IG's look at Pruitt's rent of a Capitol Hill condo tied to a lobbyist with business before EPA, after investigators failed to interview the then-administrator before his resignation.

Pruitt has sought work as an energy consultant and speaker since leaving EPA, and has worked for Joseph Craft III, the chief executive of the coal company Alliance Resource Partners LP, The Washington Post reported in December.

Zinke resigned in December amid a series of investigations by the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General and the Department of Justice. Zinke has said the allegations were frivolous — he was accused, for instance, of violating the Hatch Act after being photographed wearing socks with a likeness of Trump's face along with his campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again."

The Interior Department's IG was also looking into Zinke's role in a real estate deal backed by former Halliburton Co. CEO Dave Lesar in Zinke's hometown of Whitefish, Mont. And he's facing an investigation and lawsuit into his role in withholding a permit for a tribal casino in Connecticut.

The Washington Post reported in January that the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section was looking into whether Zinke lied to investigators from the Interior Department (E&E News PM, Jan. 3).

Zinke told the Associated Press he's not interested in running for office in this election cycle. He was hired in mid-January as managing director of Artillery One, a North Carolina-based cybersecurity firm, and signed on in February with Turnberry Solutions LLC, a lobbying firm founded by a group of former Trump aides (Energywire, Feb. 14).

Pruitt left the Dallas event early. Zinke declined an interview request but reiterated he's not seeking office.

"I'm happy in the private sector," he said.