fb tracking

Fossil Filled

Oil, Mining Companies Seeking Bailouts Dominate Interior Department Officials’ Calendars

Since the start of the Trump administration, the calendars of top officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior have been filled with meetings involving energy and mining firms and corporate trade groups. Now, these well-connected industries are seeking bailouts and special favors.

In a comprehensive examination of corporate influence on the Interior Department, Public Citizen identified 679 external meetings with non-government entities on the calendars of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and five top aides from January 2017 to May 2019.

The analysis of these meetings found that officials’ schedules were dominated by the energy and mining industries, including individual companies, lobbyists and trade groups. Nearly two-thirds of meetings analyzed, or 443 meetings in total, were with energy companies and lobbyists. The total highlights how important access to key Interior Department officials to companies that drill or mine on publicly lands and offshore and pay royalties to the government for the right to do so. The analysis found:

  • Oil and gas companies met 225 times with top officials, or 33% of external meetings held by the top officials. These groups include both onshore and offshore drilling firms.
  • Lobbying and law firms representing mostly corporate interests met 104 times with top officials, or 15% of meetings.
  • Mining and coal companies met 83 times with top officials, or 12% of meetings.
  • Electric and gas utility/transmission companies met 31 times, or nearly 5% of meetings. Many of these companies use a wide variety of fuel sources, including coal, natural gas, renewables and own and develop transmission projects.

By contrast:

  • Conservation groups met 63 times with top Interior officials, or 9% of meetings.
  • Renewable energy interests met 22 times with top Interior officials, or 3% of meetings.

The Public Citizen analysis of Interior Department calendars provides important context for understanding how the Trump administration is likely to treat the industry as it begs for assistance in a crisis partly of its own making.

Due to the coronavirus crisis and worldwide lockdowns, demand for energy has plummeted, and many smaller oil companies, especially domestic firms that rely on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, have been on the brink of bankruptcy. Many domestic oil and gas producers were already loaded with debt and had unsustainable business models and are now in deep financial trouble.

Colorado-based Whiting Petroleum filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early April. Offshore oil drilling companies have shut down their wells as refiners and storage facilities have no room to store their production amid a glut of supply that sent prices plummeting. Some experts predict hundreds of energy firms, suppliers and related companies will file for bankruptcy by the end of next year. The Trump administration has scrambled to figure out how to help the industry, a sector that has been a major source of political and financial support for himself and other Republicans, as well as a source of staffers for the Trump administration.

In an effort to stabilize its finances, the oil industry and congressional oil state allies have been desperately pushing for federal assistance, including relief from the 12.5% federal royalty payment, which is already lower than typical royalties for land owned by states. The Trump administration, which has been eager to do favors for friends in the oil and gas industry, has moved to speed up requests for relief on royalty payments. However, giving oil and gas companies a break on royalty payments would deprive governments budgets of funds needed for government services.

Though laid-off oil workers may indeed need government help, there is no doubt that the Trump administrations’ sympathies lie with the executives who call Trump a personal friend, such as Oklahoma billionaire and campaign donor Harold Hamm, the founder and executive chairman of Continental Resources Inc., labeled “Trump’s energy whisperer.” Trump friend Carl Icahn is a major investor in another major U.S. oil producer, Houston-based Occidental Petroleum Inc. On March 27, Trump signed the CARES Act, a $2 trillion economic stimulus bill. Tucked into the bill was a massive tax benefits for corporate America, letting all businesses use losses to offset profits for the past five years, resulting in massive tax refunds. This tax benefit, while available to all businesses, is especially helpful for industries such as oil that rack up significant losses in bad years. Bloomberg News later called this change a “stealth bailout” for oil companies and calculated that it would result in $1.9 billion in tax benefits for 37 oil industry companies, including Occidental Petroleum and Marathon Petroleum.

On April 3, Trump, along with Bernhardt, U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette and several key lawmakers met the White House with energy executives, as Trump pressed Russia and Saudi Arabia for production cuts to stabilize the price war between the two countries that had sent oil prices plunging. The general atmosphere was one of extreme obsequiousness as executives from Continental, Occidental, Phillips 66, Devon Energy, Hilcorp Energy the American Petroleum Institute, Energy Transfer Partners, Chevron and ExxonMobil took turns praising the president. “Really appreciate your leadership, also the friendship that you’ve kept with the Saudis — the Saudi Crown minister — or Crown Prince, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. I know those haven’t been easy sometimes, but at this time, it was particularly needed,” Continental Resources’ Hamm said. Devon Energy CEO Dave Hager thanked Trump “for the leadership that you’re providing during this challenging time. And we — you’re the right man at the right time to balance all the priorities.”

In typical Trump fashion, the president further signaled his intentions to help the oil and gas sector in an April 21 tweet:

The Public Citizen analysis of Interior Department calendars is based on thousands of pages of calendars from six top officials, from January 2017 to May 2019. The calendars, obtained by Documented Investigations through public record requests and public postings include those of: Bernhardt and Deputy Secretary Katharine MacGregor, Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason, Assistant Secretary Doug Domenech, Special Assistant to the Secretary Kathleen Benedetto and Solicitor Daniel Jorjani. Oil and gas companies made up one-third of external meetings, by far the largest share, followed by lobbying/law firms and mining and coal companies.

Table 1: Industry Sectors Meeting With Top Interior Department Officials




Oil/gas 225 33.1%
Lobbying/Law 104 15.3%
Mining/Coal 83 12.2%
Conservation 63 9.3%
Fishing/Hunting/Recreation 42 6.2%
Electric/gas utility/transmission 31 4.6%
Business Trade Group 27 4.0%
Conservative Group 24 3.5%
Renewables 22 3.2%
Casinos 17 2.5%
Agribusiness 13 1.9%
Real Estate/Construction 6 0.9%
Telecom 5 0.7%
Water 5 0.7%
Transportation 5 0.7%
Other Corporate 4 0.6%
Other 3 0.4%
Grand Total 679
Source: Public Citizen analysis of Interior Department calendars involving private sector meetings.

Among the most frequent guests of these Interior officials were the American Petroleum Institute (13 times); ConocoPhillips (11); the National Ocean Industries Association. which represents offshore drilling firms (11); law firm Wilmer Hale (8) and coal mining company Peabody Energy (8). Many of these companies and trade group members and clients stand to benefit from numerous federal rescue programs.

Table 2: Top 25 Companies/Groups Meetings With Interior Officials

Company/Trade Group



American Petroleum Institute Oil/Gas 13
National Ocean Industries Association Oil/Gas 11
ConocoPhillips Oil/Gas 11
Wilmer Hale Lobbying/Law 8
Peabody Energy Mining/coal 8
BP Oil/Gas 8
Multiple oil industry groups Oil/Gas 8
Nature Conservancy Conservation 7
Shell Oil/Gas 7
Competitive Enterprise Institute Conservative Group 6
National Mining Association Mining/coal 6
Alaska Gasline Development Corp. Oil/Gas 6
National Petroleum Council Oil/Gas 6
ExxonMobil Oil/Gas 6
Western Energy Alliance Oil/Gas 6
Ducks Unlimited Fishing/Hunting/Recreation 6
NextEra Energy Electric/gas utility/transmission 5
American Forest Resource Council Business Trade Group 5
Wilderness Society Conservation 5
Holland & Hart Lobbying/Law 5
Norton Rose Fulbright Lobbying/Law 5
Ballard Partners Lobbying/Law 5
American Exploration & Production Council Oil/Gas 5
Consumer Energy Alliance Oil/Gas 5
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Fishing/Hunting/Recreation 5
Source: Public Citizen analysis of Interior Department calendars involving private sector meetings.

Tight ties between the oil and gas industry and the government are standard operating procedure for the Trump administration. Bernhardt, a former energy and corporate lobbyist, has pushed to expand oil drilling since the start of the Trump administration.

The offshore drilling industry knows Bernhardt quite well. While working at the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Bernhardt represented NOIA in a lawsuit brought by environmental groups to challenge an Obama administration offshore lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Berrnhardt appears to have been a regular speaker at NOIA’s annual meetings, appearing with the group’s then-president as well as former Vice President Dick Cheney in a 2013 photograph (far right).

Source: Photos of NOIA fall 2013 meeting from newsletter obtained by Documented Investigations.

Public Citizen’s analysis found that Brownstein Hyatt was present at 13 meetings with the six top Interior Department officials analyzed, the most of any lobbying firm. These contacts are likely to be especially valuable as the federal government hands out rescue money, loans and regulatory favors in reaction to the coronavirus crisis. A recent analysis by the Western Values Project found that Brownstein Hyatt has signed 17 new clients seeking relief from the Trump administration.

Table 3: Top Lobbying Firms Meeting With Interior Officials

Firm Name


Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck 13
Holland & Hart 11
Wilmer Hale 8
Ballard Partners 6
Natural Resource Results 5
National Environmental Strategies 5
Squire Patton Boggs 5
HBW Resources 4
E2 Strategies 4
Freemyer & Associates 4
Source: Public Citizen analysis of Interior Department calendars involving private sector meetings.

With dozens of energy industry players on the brink of bankruptcy, the oil industry has been desperately pushing for federal assistance, including a reduction in royalty payments and access to federally guaranteed loans. The industry’s allies in Congress have been quick to seize upon the situation. On March 20, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) and 13 other lawmakers urged Bernhardt to grant royalty relief to drillers. “We do not believe the American energy sector needs a bailout from Congress,” they wrote. “However, the Department of the Interior has existing authority to temporarily reduce or eliminate royalties set forth in the leases in the Western and Central Planning Areas of the Gulf of Mexico and other lease areas. In the past, the Department has used this authority to increase development and production.”

The Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association, a division of the U.S. Oil and Gas Association (a former Bernhardt client) kept up the pressure with an April 2 letter to President Trump, requesting  favors including a suspension or reduction of royalty payments on federal oil leases, casting this giveaway as a “temporary emergency measure that reflects certain economic environments and acknowledges price conditions and thresholds.” The Louisiana group requested more time to set aside money for costs expected to be incurred to clean up shuttered or decommissioned offshore wells, a major expense for the industry.

However, Bloomberg News reported that Trump himself ruled out one of the industry’s boldest requests: Blanket relief from royalties paid for drilling on federal lands and waters. Still, the offshore drilling industry has been pushing aggressively for a break on royalties, even if the requests must be made by individual companies. U.S. Sen John Kennedy (R-La.) pleaded for royalty relief in an April 22 tweet.

After meeting with Bernhardt in early April, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) issued a statement saying that Bernhardt “promised to quickly process targeted royalty relief on the outer continental shelf using existing law.” And in an April 10 letter to U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), Interior official Casey Hammond wrote that “it is our intent to continue to use these long-standing regulatory tools” to grant royalty relief to oil companies.

Members of NOIA, which had the second-highest number of meetings with top Interior officials in Public Citizen’s tally, stand to benefit from any sort of royalty relief plan. In a late April opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle, Erik Milito, the group’s president argued  that “temporary royalty relief can ensure that American offshore production survives, and continues to provide revenues for the federal government, coastal states” and conservation programs. “Otherwise, there won’t be royalties because there will not be production.” Still, many oil industry executives are frustrated with what they perceive to be the Trump administration’s slow response to the requests for royalty relief, especially cause it would give the industry an incentive to produce oil in a market where little storage capacity.

In western states, officials have not been enthusiastic about cutting back on royalties for drilling on public lands, due to the impact on the budgets of states, which get a cut of the revenue. The Western Governors Association, in an April 3 letter, expressed concerns, saying “These oil and gas royalties are an integral component of many western states’ budgets, and suspending their collection would have a direct negative effect on states.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and six other Senate Democrats urged Bernhardt not to do so in a May 1 letter. “Waiving or reducing royalties owed to the federal taxpayer and states will further delay critical resources from being deployed by states, tribes, and local governments to combat this pandemic and other essential services needed to restart our economy safely,” the senators wrote. “This will only exacerbate the reliance of these states on additional federal relief.”

In late April, E&E News reported that the Bureau of Land Management circulated guidance encouraging oil producers to apply for a reduced royalty rate. But Kathleen Sgamma, executive director of the Western Energy Alliance, told the publication that the response was inadequate. “This is not what we’ve been looking for,” she said, adding that energy companies need a “comprehensive” solution. Nevertheless, these potential bailouts reflect the extraordinary access that fossil fuel firms have had to top Trump administration officials, who have been open about their efforts to aid the industry during the pandemic.

For example, Brouillette said he would work with U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin to press bank regulators, who are supposed to be free from political influence, for light regulation of loans to these distressed companies. “Now is not the time to be asking the borrowers in the energy industry for additional equity, with prices being what they are,” he told E&E News. Brouillette even compared banks that make careful decisions about whether to loan money to troubled oil firms to lending “discrimination,” telling Reuters that: “We just want to ensure that as banks are going out there, they’re not making discriminatory decisions and saying ‘No we’re not going to do any of this type of lending. We prefer to do this other type of lending’.” He later used the same racially insensitive analogy to complain about banks’ decisions to not finance oil and gas development in the Arctic, asserting that “ I do not think banks should be redlining our oil and gas investment across the country.”

The Trump administration has been evaluating several potential interventions, including government bridge loans to oil firms and corporate debt purchases by the Federal Reserve, which revamped a lending program in ways that could make it easier for oil drillers to refinance their loans at lower rates. The decision to do so came after intense pressure from the energy industry.

Industry-friendly lawmakers have been happy to aid the industry’s push. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and 10 Republican colleagues pleaded for help in a letter to Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, pushing the central bank to loosen a restriction that made it difficult for companies such as Occidental Petroleum Inc. that had their debt recently downgraded to access Fed assistance. “We face a real and present danger of seeing hundreds, if not thousands of oil producers shuttering, an event that will profoundly and negatively impact the industry, its financial partners and consumers for years to come,” the senators warned.

The Fed made changes to the program on April 30 loosening several financial restrictions that made it more difficult for troubled companies to access bank loans backed by the Fed. But critics including Bharat Ramamurti, a member of the congressional panel overseeing the federal rescue, called the Fed changes a giveaway to the oil industry with Ramamurti tweeting that:

Fed officials deny the program will help the most troubled oil companies. Dallas Federal Reserve President Robert Kaplan said in an interview with Yahoo Finance that the loans would need to meet bank lending standards and said companies on the brink of insolvency “are not going to be able to access those programs, and there will be a substantial number of bankruptcies, restructurings, that are going to have to happen, because so much of (oil) production is being shut in,” he said.

By mid- May, the chances of a dramatic oil rescue appeared to die down. With oil prices stabilizing, Brouillette told Axios that“For the time being, the first steps we’ve taken are going to be what we do. I’m not anticipating any broad strokes here beyond what we’ve already done,” Brouillette said. “We’re not contemplating, as I sit here today, a specific second or third step. It may come if the results of the plan aren’t panning out the way we had hoped.” Brouillette said he did anticipate bipartisan support for purchases of oil to fill the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve. Any Trump administration letup is likely to receive pushback from its oil industry allies. An industry official complained to Politico, saying: “”Why this administration can stand idly by while entire sections of the oil and gas industry are cratering is mystifying.”

In Public Citizen’s analysis of Interior Department calendars, mining companies and trade groups made up 15% of external meetings with officials, or 84 meetings in total. These meetings highlight the Trump Interior Department’s intense focus on promoting dirty sources of energy and environmentally destructive mining operations. Frequent guests included coal company Peabody Energy, which supplied coal to a now-closed power plant in Arizona and fought unsuccessfully to keep the plant open.

Public Citizen’s analysis identified six meetings involving a Chilean firm’s effort to develop a copper and nickel mine in northern Minnesota, near a vast wilderness area. The mining project, which was formally proposed to the federal Bureau of Land Management in December 2019 is wholly owned by a Chilean firm, Antofagasta Plc. This mining company attracted attention after the Wall Street Journal revealed Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner rented a six-bedroom home in an elite Washington, D.C., neighborhood from a company controlled by Chilean billionaire Andrónico Luksic, who controls Antofagasta.  Another repeat visitor was Alton Coal Development Co., which the Interior Department has granted permission  to expand its mining operations about 10 miles away from Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park.

Like the oil and gas industry, the mining and coal industry has been pushing for emergency assistance amid the pandemic. On March 18, the National Mining association argued that it should be relived from royalties paid to the government in a letter to top lawmakers argued that Congress should “suspend or reduce” federal royalty payments for mining on public lands, and argued for the reduction of a special excise tax for care of victims of black-lung disease.

The Trump administration quickly reassured the coal industry by adding coal miners and workers at related jobs to its lengthy list of essential critical infrastructure workers who could be required to work, even during a lockdown. Meanwhile, several coal and mining companies have received federal aid under the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which is designed to help small companies weather the economic storm. For example Hallador Energy, which hired former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt as its lobbyist, received $10 million through the program. And the Trump administration has released a nuclear energy plan that would exempt uranium mining from a thorough environmental review. U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-N.M.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, warned that doing so would threaten an area less than 10 miles from the Grand Canyon, where an underground uranium mine already sits.

Table 4: Mining Firms Meeting With Interior Department Officials



Peabody Energy 8
National Mining Association 6
American Exploration and Mining Association 4
Twin Metals 4
Arch Coal 3
The Mosaic Company 3
Industrial Minerals Association – North America 3
Lighthouse Resources/Millennium Bulk Terminals 3
Monsanto (Now Bayer)[1] 3
Interstate Mining Compact Commission 3
Alton Coal Development 3
Nevada Iron 2
Pershing Gold Corp 2
Antofagasta PLC 2
Source: Public Citizen analysis of Interior Department calendars involving private sector meetings.

Propping up extractive industries such as mining and fracking companies, especially those that have had longstanding financial problems that are unrelated to the coronavirus crisis, would be a serious mistake. Doing so would provide a short-term boost to owners of troubled oil and gas companies, while putting the planet at serious risk While it may be appropriate for the federal government to provide direct relief to workers impacted by the coronavirus crisis and recession, there is little reason for a broad set of bailouts and favors. Unfortunately, given the extraordinary and disproportionate access of oil, gas and mining companies to top officials at the Interior Department, there is ample reason to fear that oil, gas and mining companies and their owners will benefit disproportionately from federal bailouts.

Companies and Groups Meeting With Interior Secretary David Bernhardt



Ducks Unlimited 4
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation 3
American Petroleum Institute 3
National Mining Association 2
ConocoPhillips 2
American Wildlife Conservation Partners 2
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation 2
Ballard Partners 2
National Park Foundation 2
BP 2
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership 2
Competitive Enterprise Institute 2
Heritage Foundation 2

Companies and Groups Meeting With Deputy Secretary Katharine MacGregor


National Ocean Industries Association 10
Multiple oil industry groups 8
American Petroleum Institute 7
National Petroleum Council 6
Statoil/Equinor 6
Wilmer Hale 6
ExxonMobil 5
Shell 5
NextEra Energy 5
ConocoPhillips 5
International Association of Geophysical Contractors 4
BP 4
Consumer Energy Alliance 4
Western Energy Alliance 4
Chevron 3
BK Strategies 3
New Mexico Oil and Gas Assn. 3
Alaska Gasline Development Corp. 3
The Mosaic Company 3
National Mining Association 3
American Exploration & Production Council 3
Interstate Mining Compact Commission 3

Companies and Groups Meeting With Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason



Peabody Energy 6
Nature Conservancy 4
Salt River Project 4
Allston & Bird 3
Alaska Gasline Development Corp. 3
Spirit Rock LLC 3
Holland & Hart 3
Edison Electric Institute 2
Perkins Coie 2
Parsons Behle & Latimer 2
First Solar 2
Santa Ynez Valley Coalition 2
Heritage Foundation 2
Norton Rose Fulbright 2
American Exploration & Production Council 2
BP 2
Texas Public Policy Foundation 2
Conservation Fund 2
MGM Resorts International 2
SoCalGas 2
American Forest Resource Council 2
Antofagasta PLC 2
Wilmer Hale 2
Lighthouse Resources/Millennium Bulk Terminals 2
National Ocean Industries Association 2

Companies and Groups Meeting With Special Assistant to the Secretary Kathleen Benedetto



Nature Conservancy 5
Wilderness Society 5
EDF Renewable Energy 4
American Exploration and Mining Association 4
Freemyer & Associates 4
Save the Boundary Waters 3
Industrial Minerals Association – North America 3
ConocoPhillips 3
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership 3
Twin Metals 3
Holland & Hart 3
Great Outdoors Fund 3
Alaska Gasline Development Corp. 3

Companies and Groups Meeting With Assistant Secretary Doug Domenech



Competitive Enterprise Institute 4
BP 3
Texas Public Policy Foundation 3
Dominion Energy 2
Pembina Pipeline Corp. 2
Outdoor Industry Assn. 2
Cato Institute 2
Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico 2
Ducks Unlimited 2

Companies and Groups Meeting With Solicitor Daniel Jorjani



Parsons Behle & Latimer 2
Texas Public Policy Foundation 2
SpaceX 2
American Forest and Paper Assn 2
Land Trust Alliance/Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico 2
National Park Foundation 2


Source for tables: Public Citizen analysis of Interior Department calendars involving private sector meetings.

[1] While Monsanto, recently acquired by Bayer AG, was mainly an agribusiness firm, these meetings involve a phosphate mine in Idaho.