- Three coal companies received millions in bailout cash largely intended for small businesses.
- Former head of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt is now a lobbyist at Hallador Energy, which received $10 million in bailout cash.
- Rhino Resources also received $10 million. The former head of Rhino is David Zatezalo, assistant secretary for the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health.
- A third company, Ramaco Resources, received $8.4 million. CEO Randy Atkins sits on the Department of Energy’s National Coal Council.
- In March, the EPA temporarily stopped enforcing its civil environmental regulations, citing the pandemic.
- Oil and gas companies are trying to “protect workers and the public from COVID-19,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist.
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Three coal mining companies have received $28 million in coronavirus-bailout cash. They all have ties to the administration of President Donald Trump. All of the companies received the money under the Paycheck Protection Program, which is officially intended for “small” businesses.
One of the companies tied to the administration is Indiana-based Hallador Energy, according to a joint report by The Guardian and watchdog group Documented.
One of Hallador’s lobbyists is Scott Pruitt, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency who was ousted amid scandal in 2018. “Within the agency Scott has done an outstanding job,” Trump said at the time, “and I will always be thankful to him for this.”
In mid-April, Hallador received $10 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, an historic $2.1 trillion aid package. The company is using that cash for two months of payroll and other expenses, per The Guardian and Documented.
Rhino Resources, which also received $10 million in bailout cash, also has ties to the Trump administration. The company’s former chief is David Zatezalo, assistant secretary for the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health.
Ramaco Resources, a third coal company with ties to the administration, received $8.4 million from the CARES Act. Its CEO, Randy Atkins, sits on the National Coal Council, part of the Department of Energy.
An additional $22 million went to other industry players. All told, at least $50 million in CARES cash has gone to the fossil fuel industry.
Melinda Pierce, the legislative director for the Sierra Club, told The Guardian: “The federal money Congress appropriated should be going to help small businesses and frontline workers struggling as a result of the pandemic, not the corporate polluters whose struggles are a result of failing business practices and existed long before Covid-19 entered the public lexicon.”
According to Jesse Coleman, a top researcher at Documented, the details of its report with The Guardian were all found in voluntary disclosures.
“No matter what, it’s going to be an incomplete picture of what’s going on,” Coleman told The Guardian.
Asked about the major corporations receiving CARES Act cash, Trump told reporters that the White House would consider looking into it.
“We’ll look at individual things, and some people will have to return it if we think it’s inappropriate,” he said at a press briefing on April 20. “If somebody got something that we think is inappropriate, we’ll get it back.”
Before energy companies received CARES money, the EPA ceased enforcement of many environmental rules
In late March, the EPA suspended enforcement of its civil environmental regulations, citing the pandemic.
Facilities must comply with regulations “where reasonably practicable,” the EPA said in a statement. But the agency will not “seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations.”
The agency’s normal regulations would unnecessarily hamper companies that emit pollutants, said Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
Oil and gas companies are trying to “protect workers and the public from COVID-19,” said Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist.
The policy applies to civil violations, according to the statement, but “does not provide leniency for intentional criminal violations of law.”
Cynthia Giles, head of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement under Barack Obama, told the Hill that the move was a troubling one.
“This EPA statement is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules for the indefinite future,” Giles said.
The policy, which the EPA said is “temporary,” will be backdated to March 13. The agency did not say how long the suspension would last.