Earlier today, Environmental Protection Agency Chief Scott Pruitt, a man singularly obsessed with plunging Miami into the sea, got caught living in a home owned by the wife of a prominent energy industry lobbyist. ABC News found that for much of 2017, Pruitt resided in a townhouse owned by Vicki Hart, wife of J. Steven Hart, the CEO of D.C. lobbying firm Williams & Jensen, which caters to oil and energy companies.
Naturally, the lobbying firm has taken gobs of money from NextEra Energy, the parent company of Florida Power & Light. According to lobbying records from the Center for Responsive Politics, FPL and NextEra paid the firm a combined $1 million from 2002 through 2014. From 2002 through 2008, the company funneled $520,000 to the firm as "FPL Group." The following year, the company contributed as "NextEra" and paid Williams & Jensen another $490,000 through 2014.
Representatives for NextEra didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from New Times today, but the $1 million the company spent is a drop in the bucket for Williams & Jensen, which received $16.7 million in big-business lobbying fees in 2017 alone. But the firm's clients are a murderers' row of oil companies, carbon polluters, and corporate behemoths of all stripes. In 2017, the lobbying group took $140,000 from Georgia's Colonial Pipeline Company, $80,000 from Houston's Cheniere Energy, and $70,000 from ExxonMobil.
The company's "Energy and Environment" page on its website says it has helped secure federal approval for pipeline projects and natural gas facilities, as well as lifted the '70s-era ban on U.S. crude oil exports.
"Our energy and environment clients have included: electric utilities; refiners; energy-intensive manufacturers; a solar power manufacturer; oil, refined products and natural gas pipeline operators; a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal operator; oil and gas producers; coal producers; and
For what it's worth, the firm does handle other areas of business: It also represented Coca-Cola, Comcast, General Electric, Dell Computers, Pfizer, Visa, and other groups last year.
It's unclear why NextEra cut ties with Williams & Jensen in 2014, but today's revelation does nothing to dispel the notion that Pruitt is remarkably close to the oil and energy firms he's supposed to be regulating. It goes without saying that you don't score a townhouse from an energy-funded lobbyist unless that person thinks you're on his or her side.
ABC News was not able to confirm if or how much Pruitt paid to live at the townhouse. Therefore, Bryson Morgan, the former investigative counsel at the U.S. House of Representatives Office of Congressional Ethics, told ABC it's difficult to know whether Pruitt's living arrangement constituted an "improper gift" or some other kind of ethics violation.
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"I think it certainly creates a perception problem, especially if Mr. Hart is seeking to influence the agency," Morgan told ABC. "That’s why there is a gift rule.”
Pruitt has long been accused of being a paid shill for energy companies and carbon polluters. A series of leaked emails published in 2017 showed Pruitt worked arm-in-arm with energy officials during his previous job as Oklahoma's attorney general. Just yesterday, the Huffington Post reported Pruitt had handed EPA staffers "talking points" that instructed employees to downplay humanity's role in causing climate change
In NextEra's case, the company does acknowledge that climate change is real and caused by humans, but many environmentalists say the company is not doing enough to mitigate its own carbon emissions. A recent report from the University of Massachusetts noted that NextEra was the 12th-largest single carbon emitter in America in 2015, behind Duke Energy and the Southern Company, which also operate in Florida. In 2017, a report from watchdog group the Energy and Policy Institute noted that scientists had warned FPL and Southern about climate change and carbon pollution way back in 1971.
However, Pruitt's shameful crusade against basic greenhouse-gas science isn't what might one day spell his end at the EPA. Instead, he's under fire for blowing gobs of cash on first-class flights around the world — a practice that spelled doom for former Health Secretary Tom Price last year.