The Environmental Protection Agency Chief Sat In Courtside Seats From A Coal Exec

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The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seems to be getting closer and closer to the industries he's vowed to regulate. A new report in The New York Times explores Scott Pruitt's relationship with the head of a coal company, Alliance Resource Partners. In addition to a large number of meetings, it turns out that they're close enough that the coal executive is selling Pruitt courtside basketball tickets.

The coal billionaire Joseph W. Craft III sold Pruitt two of his season tickets to a University of Kentucky basketball game against the University of Louisville in December. The seats were excellent, in an area reserved for alumni who have donated more than $1 million to the school, The Times reported.

There's no financial record of the payment for the tickets. Jahan Wilcox, a spokesperson for the EPA told The New York Times that Pruitt paid Craft $130 cash for them. He could not explain why they used cash and said, "Administrator Pruitt and Joe Craft are longtime friends."

Pruitt, who went to the University of Kentucky, went to the game with his son. Videos on Twitter show the two on camera — that's how close they were sitting to the player. Pruitt reportedly even had opportunities to meet the players in the locker room, and a picture shows that he posed with one of the players on the team.

This is just one example of many of his close relationship with Craft. As the report notes, the two are on a close enough basis to text each other. They've also met in person at least seven times since Pruitt took charge of the EPA 14 months ago.

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The two have a lot in common — not just their opposition to the EPA's coal regulations. They both are from Kentucky and attended the university, whose basketball team was playing. Later in their careers, they both worked in Oklahoma. That's where Craft's company is based, and Pruitt was an elected politician there.

Pruitt is not Craft's only connection to the Trump administration. Craft's wife Kelly Knight Craft is the ambassador to Canada that Trump nominated. She was confirmed in August, having had prior experience at the U.N., appointed by George W. Bush. It didn't hurt that the couple donated millions to Trump's campaign and inauguration.

But Pruitt is the one tasked with regulating the coal industry. And therefore it's his contact with people like Craft that has drawn the most scrutiny. He has been investigated at least 12 times for potential violations on the job — including ethical ones.

His most famous snafu may be the soundproof booth that he had constructed for his office, but that was not the most expensive thing thus far. His trip to Italy last year cost $120,000 in public money. The biggest cost last year, though, was the $3.5 million spent on personal security.

There have also been questions about where Scott Pruitt was living in Washington, D.C. He has been accused of benefitting from subsidized rent. He paid just $50 per night — a steal for D.C. — at a rental that was owned by the wife of a lobbyist trying to influence the EPA.

This latest potential scandal may not due much to hurt Pruitt. He has thus far brushed off all the other ethical complaints. Pruitt was very clear before joining the EPA what he thought of the agency. He was a climate skeptic who had trashed the agency for years.

His on the job performance hasn't bothered Trump, though. So far he has defended Pruitt and his job performance too.