NEWS SEAN SPICER / YouTube Bob Murray had early access to...
NEWS SEAN SPICER / YouTube

While the country careens from Tweet to idiotic Tweet, the Trump Administration’s plans to sell out our country’s environment to polluters from the coal industry is proceeding swiftly, under the radar. It’s not often, though, that the looting process is actually photographed for posterity: 

As a photographer for the Department of Energy, Simon Edelman regularly attended meetings with Secretary Rick Perry and snapped pictures for official purposes.

Now he is out of a job and seeking whistle-blower protections after leaking photographs of Mr. Perry meeting with a major energy industry donor to President Trump.

Robert Murray is the CEO of Murray Energy, this country’s largest privately held coal company. An ardent Climate Denialist, he is one of Trump’s chief advisors on energy “policy” and is one of the key –if not the key—figures responsible for the anti-science dogma that permeates every action by this Administration relating to the environment:

Murray said he has counseled President Trump to go further than reversing the power plant rule that is the Obama administration’s signature climate change policy; he has also urged repeal of the 2009 finding that greenhouse gases endangered public health and welfare. That finding, grounded in peer-reviewed science, is the underpinning of the Environmental Protection Agency’s actions on climate change under the Clean Air Act.

Not coincidentally, he was also one of Trump’s biggest donors, contributing $300,000 to his Inaugural Committee. And also not coincidentally, he has funded Rick Perry’s political campaigns. Murray was in large part behind the Administration’s decision to gut a rule imposed during the Obama Administration prohibiting coal companies from dumping their toxic sludge into our freshwater streams, calling it a “top priority” which, again, not coincidentally, was featured on the Trump transition team’s website (now deleted).

Watching Perry embrace Murray in the March 2017 meeting, as the latter submitted an “Action Plan” geared to profit himself and his company at the expense of the rest of us was apparently too much

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The “Action Plan” submitted to Rick Perry by Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy—Photograph by Simon Edelman for DOE.

to ignore for Simon Edelman, who came to the DOE as an Agency photographer two years ago in the Obama Administration. But it wasn’t just the embrace that grated:

In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Edelman said he listened in as Murray detailed the actions he wanted the Trump administration to take. They included replacing members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, pulling the United States out of the Paris climate accords and revoking the Clean Power Plan, former President Barack Obama’s signature effort to limit planet-warming emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Edelman said he heard Perry respond, “I think we can help you on this.”

So Edelman did his job—he snapped pictures of the meeting:

One photo showed the two men embracing; another captured the cover sheet of a confidential “action plan” that Mr. Murray brought to the meeting last March calling for policy and regulatory changes friendly to the coal industry.

The photos taken by Edelman sat around for months. Then one day in September, the Trump Administration, through Perry, proposed another rule that looked remarkably like something Edelman had heard proposed by Murray in that same meeting: a rule that would increase returns and subsidize struggling coal and nuclear plants, not coincidentally in the areas where Murray’s plants were located.

That prompted Edelman to provide his photographs to the media. He initially sent them to the publication In These Times. The Washington Post then published them as well.

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Photograph of the March 29 “private” meeting between Robert Murray and Department of Agency Head, Rick Perry, taken by Simon Edelman, DOE.

After Perry’s DOE learned of the photos, they immediately fired Edelman:

The day after the photos were published by In These Times, a liberal magazine, the Energy Department put Mr. Edelman on administrative leave, seized his personal laptop and escorted him out of its headquarters in Washington, he said. He was later told, without explanation, that his employment agreement had not been renewed, internal agency emails show.

The problem is, retaliatory firings against “whistle-blowers”—those who alert their superiors to official misconduct– are illegal, under DOE’s own guidelines, and Edelman has now filed a complaint of his firing with the inspector general.

Whether or not Mr. Edelman succeeds in his lawsuit for what is patently a retaliatory firing, the more important aspect of this is that it shows the Trump Department of Energy essentially acting as a rubber stamp for the coal industry and in particular, Mr. Murray, Trump’s big campaign donor: 

The confidential documents Mr. Murray brought to his meeting with Mr. Perry called for “rescinding anti-coal regulations of the Obama administration” and cutting the staff of the Environmental Protection Agency “in at least half,” according to portions visible in Mr. Edelman’s photographs.

Last week, The New York Times obtained a copy of a separate memo written by Mr. Murray, and reported that the Trump administration had completed or was on track to fulfill most of the 16 policy and regulatory requests contained in it. Mr. Murray told The Times the two memos essentially covered the same material.

In other words, this country’s environmental protections–protections intended to apply to all of us, protections intended to preserve our health and that of our children, and protections that are paid for by our tax dollars–are being gutted explicitly to satisfy the “wish list” of this coal company CEO, who happens to be one of Trump’s biggest donors.

There’s a word for this. It’s called “corruption.”

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