Energy & Environment

Lobbyist whose wife rented to Pruitt steps down

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A lobbyist whose wife rented a condo to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt is stepping down from his firm.
J. Steven Hart, a chairman and former CEO of Williams & Jensen, had been planning to retire in November, but said the controversy surrounding the Pruitt rental — and the ensuing “fake news” — spurred him to leave faster than he had anticipated.
“Considering the last couple of weeks, I think it is easier on my family and the firm to expedite my departure,” Hart wrote to family and friends Friday.
He thanked those who had sent him and his wife, Vicki Hart, “notes and flowers” during the Pruitt fallout.
“[W]e learned a new and personal meaning of, ‘Fake News’ and ‘Real Friends.’ They say if you need a friend in Washington, get a dog,” he continued. “We now know that adage is not always accurate.” {mosads}
“As you know, these days I am no more an energy lobbyist than I am an astronaut. But, why let the facts get in the way of a good story,” he said. 
Disclosure forms list Hart as representing natural gas exporter Cheniere Energy, along with numerous other clients in many sectors. The law and lobbying firm is one of the highest-earning firms on K Street, taking in more than $16.5 million in lobbying revenues in 2017.
Like most of K Street, 2018 has been a good year for Williams & Jensen. The firm took in more than $4.4 million in lobbying revenue during the first three months of 2018, a 13 percent increase over the same period last year.
A spokesman for Williams & Jensen confirmed that Hart retired Friday.
“We are grateful to Steve for his 35 years of service and we wish him and his family well in all of their future endeavors,” the spokesman said.
By Friday evening, his biography page had been removed from the website.
The firm has only lobbied for two clients in front of the EPA, according to public disclosures: Owens-Illinois, the largest glass bottle manufacturer in the world, and OGE Energy Corp, the parent company of the Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. 
Hart is registered, in the most recent forms available, to work for Owens-Illinois, but not OGE Energy. But Hart has told news outlets that Owens-Illinois registration was made in error, and the firm is working to fix it.
Pipeline company Enbridge Inc. also has business before the EPA and is a Williams & Jensen client, but the firm did not lobby the EPA on the company’s behalf.
Bloomberg News first reported on Hart’s departure Friday
“I am very much looking forward to devoting myself to an independent legal practice, some strategic business counseling for a few clients, golf, and shooting (not in that order),” his email concluded.
Hart and Pruitt are both from Oklahoma and knew each other for years before Pruitt become EPA chief.
Hart’s wife, a health lobbyist, co-owns a Capitol Hill condo where Pruitt stayed part of last year. 
Pruitt paid $50 per night, but only when he slept there, totaling $6,100 for the roughly six months he stayed. His daughter stayed there during part of the summer, as an intern in the White House.
The condo arrangement and its unusual terms have sparked concerns and multiple investigations, under the theory that it could constitute a gift from a lobbyist, which could be unethical or illegal.
But President Trump said the arrangement was acceptable, tweeting that Pruitt’s lease “was about market rate.” 
The rental has also caused a series of headaches for the Harts.
Politico reported that Pruitt was frequently late paying rent and that the Harts had to push him out, going so far as to change the locks on the unit. 
Pruitt’s security detail once broke down the door to the property when they thought he was unconscious. He had only been taking a nap.
On Thursday, the Campaign for Accountability filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, alleging that Sen. Mike Crapo’s (R-Idaho) election campaign held fundraisers at the condo without paying the owners, in violation of campaign finance laws.
Washington, D.C., regulators cited the partnership that owns the condo for allegedly operating the property as a day-to-day rental without having the proper license.
Tags Donald Trump Mike Crapo Scott Pruitt
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