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Trump assailed climate rules and asked for $1B from big oil

DOUG MILLS/THE NEW YORK TIMES / 2023
                                Former President Donald Trump during a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, his club in West Palm Beach, Fla. At a private meeting at Mar-a-Lago, the former president said fossil fuel companies should donate to help him beat President Biden.
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DOUG MILLS/THE NEW YORK TIMES / 2023

Former President Donald Trump during a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, his club in West Palm Beach, Fla. At a private meeting at Mar-a-Lago, the former president said fossil fuel companies should donate to help him beat President Biden.

Former President Donald Trump told a group of oil executives and lobbyists gathered at a dinner at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida last month that they should donate $1 billion to his presidential campaign because, if elected, he would roll back environmental rules that he said hampered their industry, according to two people who were there.

About 20 people attended the April 11 event, billed as an “energy roundtable,” at Trump’s private club, according to those people, who asked not to be identified to discuss the private event. Attendees included executives from Exxon Mobil Corp., EQT Corp. and the American Petroleum Institute, which lobbies for the oil industry.

The event was organized by oil billionaire Harold Hamm, who has for years helped to shape Republican energy policies. It was first reported by The Washington Post.

Trump has publicly railed for months against President Joe Biden’s energy and environmental agenda, as Biden has raced to restore and strengthen dozens of climate and conservation rules that Trump had weakened or erased while in office. In particular, Trump has promised to eliminate Biden’s new climate rules intended to accelerate the nation’s transition to electric vehicles, and to push a “Drill, baby, drill” agenda aimed at opening up more public lands to oil and gas exploration.

Biden has called climate change an existential threat and has moved to cut the pollution that is dangerously heating the planet and supercharging storms, heat waves and drought.

Over a dinner of chopped steak, Trump repeated his public promises to delete Biden’s pollution controls, telling the attendees that they should donate heavily to help him beat Biden because his policies would help their industries.

“That has been his pitch to everybody,” said Michael McKenna, who worked in the Trump White House but did not attend the event in Florida.

McKenna said the former president’s appeal to the fossil fuel industry could be summed up as: “Look, you want me to win. You might not even like me, but your other choice is four more years of these guys,” referring to the Biden administration. He added, “The uniform sentiment of guys in the business community is ‘We don’t want four more years of Team Biden.’”

Karoline Leavitt, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign, did not address the specifics of what Trump was described as saying at the dinner. In a statement, she attacked Biden as controlled “by environmental extremists who are trying to implement the most radical energy agenda in history and force Americans to purchase electric vehicles they can’t afford,” and that Trump is “supported by people who share his vision of American energy dominance to protect our national security and bring down the cost of living for all Americans.”

Biden’s presidential campaign on Thursday accused Trump of “straight up selling out working families for campaign donations from oil barons.”

Biden has frustrated the fossil fuel industry by pursuing the most ambitious climate agenda in the nation’s history. He has signed a sweeping law that pumps $370 billion into incentives for clean energy and electric vehicles and has enacted a suite of tough regulations designed to sharply reduce emissions from the burning of oil, gas and coal.

This year, the Biden administration paused the permitting process for new facilities that export liquefied natural gas in order to study their impact on climate change, the economy and national security.

But the fossil fuel industry has also enjoyed record profits under the Biden administration. Last year, the United States produced record amounts of oil. And even with the pause in new permits for gas export terminals, the United States is the world’s leading exporter of natural gas and is still on track to nearly double its export capacity by 2027 because of projects already permitted and under construction.

Biden has also approved several oil and gas projects sought by the fossil fuel industry.

He has authorized an enormous $8 billion oil development in Alaska known as the Willow project. He also granted a crucial permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a project championed by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., despite opposition from climate experts and environmental groups. Last month, undeterred by opposition from climate activists, the Biden administration also gave approval for an oil export project in Texas known as the Sea Port Oil Terminal.

Some oil and gas executives have said that they would prefer some of Biden’s regulations to remain, such as a rule requiring companies to detect and stop methane leaks from oil and gas wells. They said they wanted consistency rather than an endless pattern of regulatory whiplash in which rules are enacted by one administration, repealed by the next and restored by the one after that.

Many, however, have attacked Biden’s policies, and the industry has contributed heavily to Trump’s presidential campaign.

Although attendees were told that Trump’s event was an energy roundtable, waiting on the chairs of executives and lobbyists at Mar-a-Lago were printouts of PowerPoint slides about migrants at the southern border.

Part of the meeting dwelled on migration, and Trump declared he wanted separate divisions of Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters: one designated for immigrants who came across the border illegally, and the other for “Americans.”

The room was filled predominantly with oil and gas executives, including Mike Sabel, CEO and founder of Venture Global LNG; Toby Rice, president and CEO of EQT Corp.; Jack Fusco, CEO of Cheniere Energy; and Nick Dell’Osso, president of Chesapeake Energy.

Also in the room were North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a former Republican presidential candidate who has been acting as Trump’s point person on energy issues; and Hamm, executive chair of Continental Resources, which is among the biggest oil and gas drilling companies in Oklahoma and North Dakota.

Trump — accompanied by Susie Wiles, his top political adviser; Taylor Budowich, a former aide; and Meredith O’Rourke, a fundraiser — asked the executives to detail their concerns on energy issues, according to the two attendees.

The American Petroleum Institute, the nation’s top fossil fuel industry group, is running an eight-figure national advertising campaign to promote fossil fuels and “dismantle policy threats,” Mike Sommers, CEO of the trade group, has said. Separately, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, which represents petroleum refiners, has started to buy ads in nine battleground states urging Americans to fight Biden’s regulation on tailpipe emissions.

And states with Republican attorneys general have filed legal challenges against most, if not all, of Biden’s regulations, including a suit announced Thursday by 27 states arguing that the administration overstepped its authority in cracking down on smokestack pollution from power plants.

But Trump told executives they were not fighting hard enough. He also went on a rant about windmills, the attendees said. Trump has falsely claimed that wind turbines cause cancer and that offshore wind farms are “driving whales crazy.”

Trump did not request money in exchange for killing Biden’s climate regulations, the two people in the room maintained. Rather, the former president told executives that he was determined to squash what he considered anti-business policies, and that the oil industry should therefore want him to win and should raise $1 billion to ensure his success.

He told the executives that the amount of money they would save in taxes and legal expenses after he repealed regulations would more than cover a $1 billion contribution, the people said.

Hamm has had Trump’s ear on energy issues dating back to the former president’s 2016 campaign and pushed him to appoint Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency, where Pruitt denied the established science of climate change and unraveled environmental protections.

After Trump lost the 2020 election, Hamm briefly supported some of the former president’s rivals, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. But the oil tycoon appeared to have had a change of heart. Hamm donated $3,300 to Trump’s campaign last year, the maximum allowed for a primary contribution, and another $3,300 in March, according to campaign filings.

Hamm did not immediately respond to a request for comment. McKenna said Hamm continued to play an outsize role in Trump’s energy policy. “If Harold has an idea, the rest of us have to chase it around,” he said. “Harold Hamm wants that LNG pause gone. He wants the California waiver and the tailpipe rule gone.”

California has for decades received waivers under the Clean Air Act that authorize it to set environmental rules that are tougher than federal regulations. To do business in California, automakers and other industries must comply with its rules. Trump has promised to revoke California’s waivers.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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