Scott Pruitt’s landlord’s husband lobbied EPA, despite denials

Scott Pruitt’s landlord’s husband lobbied EPA, despite denials

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Newly released emails show that the husband of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s former DC landlord, J. Steven Hart, lobbied the Environmental Protection Agency while Pruitt was living in an apartment owned by his wife. Hart has previously denied having business before the EPA during Pruitt’s tenure as administrator.

In a March 2017 email sent to Pruitt’s chief of staff and another EPA aide, Hart requests a meeting between the administrator and Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola CEO and chairman of the board.  

“Basically, if Scot (SIC) was going to the awards ceremony, Muhtar was going to pull aside and offer to help you on your water projects,” Hart wrote. “Coke has enormous expertise in clean water development since you cannot bottle Coke with dirty water. Interestingly, they are the largest US employer in Africa because of their clean water projects.”

Hart also tried to arrange a meeting between Pruitt and another Coke executive, Jon Radtke, the chief water steward for Coke in North America, who “works with EPA on many fronts like recycling, watershed projects etc.”

“He can speak for Muhtar and confirm that Coke wants to offer the system as a resource,” Hart wrote.   

At the bottom of the email in bullet points, Hart notes that “there is no specific agenda for the meeting beyond affirming The Coca-Cola Company’s support and offering our global system as a resource.”

At the time, Pruitt was renting a Capitol Hill apartment owned by Vicki Hart, Steven Hart’s wife, for $50 a day. The terms of Pruitt’s lease were unusually favorable. Pruitt only paid for nights he was in town, saving him more than $2,000 over the 6 months he stayed there, compared to someone paying for every night of the month.

“Any suggestion that Administrator Pruitt’s short-term rental of one of its bedrooms in 2017 resulted in undue influence for the firm or its clients with business before the EPA is simply false,” Hart said this March.

The meeting between Pruitt and the soda executives never materialized.

In a statement also issued this March, a spokesman for Hart said, “he did not lobby the EPA …in 2017 or 2018.”

Pruitt also told Fox News in April that Hart had no clients with business before the EPA.  

Disclosure forms reveal that Hart lobbied Congress on behalf of Coca-Cola in 2016, but not beyond. The correspondence with the EPA staffers shows that Hart continued to do work on the company’s behalf. Coca-Cola paid Hart’s firm, WIlliams & Jensen, $200,000 in lobbying fees in 2017 and $50,000 in 2018, according to Open Secrets.

But Williams & Jensen filed a disclosure in April that showed Hart had lobbied the EPA for Smithfield Foods in 2017 regarding President Trump’s proposal to cut funding to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup program.

Hart did not respond to multiple inquiries Friday afternoon. WIlliams & Jensen did not reply to our request for comment but told the New York Times in a statement that “following press reports of a former member of our firm engaging in lobbying activity that had not been disclosed, we engaged outside counsel to conduct a review of relevant filings.”

It went on to say that its investigation revealed that “information that was not previously disclosed to our firm and therefore not included in the original filings. No Williams & Jensen client is in any way responsible for the incompleteness of our original filings.” 

Hart’s email correspondence was made public by a Freedom of Information Act request.

According to the EPA, Hart’s email correspondence with Pruitt’s staffers did not result in a meeting between Pruitt and Coke. “This meeting involving Coca Cola and their clean water steward did not occur,” EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox told CBS News. “The request was submitted and it went unfilled.”    

Hart has characterized his friendship with Pruitt as a casual one. In a March 30 memo, an EPA ethics official signed off on the lease arrangement because, the official wrote, it was “consistent with federal ethics regulations regarding gifts” and Pruitt would have paid “reasonable market value” if he stayed each night. The memo did not mention Hart’s ties to the agency.

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