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At a Dinner, Trump Assailed Climate Rules and Asked $1 Billion From Big Oil

Sci & spaceAt a Dinner, Trump Assailed Climate Rules and Asked $1 Billion From Big Oil

Former President Donald J. Trump told a group of oil executives and lobbyists gathered at a dinner at his Mar-a-Lago resort last month that they should donate $1 billion to his presidential campaign because, if elected, he would roll back environmental rules that he said hampered their industry, according to two people who were there.

About 20 people attended an April 11 event billed as an “energy round table” at Mr. Trump’s private club, according to those people, who asked not to be identified in order to discuss the private event. Attendees included executives from ExxonMobil, EQT Corporation and the American Petroleum Institute, which lobbies for the oil industry.

The event was organized by the oil billionaire Harold Hamm, who has for years helped to shape Republican energy policies. It was first reported by The Washington Post.

Mr. Trump has publicly railed for months against President Biden’s energy and environmental agenda, as Mr. Biden has raced to restore and strengthen dozens of climate and conservation rules that Mr. Trump had weakened or erased while in office. In particular, Mr. Trump has promised to eliminate Mr. Biden’s new climate rules intended to accelerate the nation’s transition to electric vehicles, and to push a “drill, baby, drill” agenda aimed at opening up more public lands to oil and gas exploration.

Mr. Biden has called climate change an existential threat and has moved to cut the pollution that is dangerously heating the planet and supercharging storms, heat waves and drought.

Over a dinner of chopped steak, Mr. Trump repeated his public promises to delete Mr. Biden’s pollution controls, telling the attendees that they should donate heavily to help him beat Mr. Biden since his policies would help their industries.

“That has been his pitch to everybody,” said Michael McKenna, who worked in the Trump White House but did not attend the event in Florida.

Mr. McKenna said the former president’s appeal to the fossil fuel industry could be summed up as: “Look, you want me to win. You might not even like me, but your other choice is four more years of these guys,” referring to the Biden administration. He added, “The uniform sentiment of guys in the business community is ‘We don’t want four more years of Team Biden.’”

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Biden’s presidential campaign on Thursday accused Mr. Trump of “straight up selling out working families for campaign donations from oil barons.”

Mr. Biden has frustrated the fossil fuel industry by pursuing the most ambitious climate agenda in the nation’s history. He has signed a sweeping law that pumps $370 billion into incentives for clean energy and electric vehicles and has enacted a suite of tough regulations designed to sharply reduce emissions from the burning of oil, gas and coal.

This year, the Biden administration paused the permitting process for new facilities that export liquefied natural gas in order to study their impact on climate change, the economy and national security.

But the fossil fuel industry has also enjoyed record profits under the Biden administration. Last year, the United States produced record amounts of oil. And even with the pause in new permits for gas export terminals, the United States is the world’s leading exporter of natural gas and is still on track to nearly double its export capacity by 2027 because of projects already permitted and under construction.

Mr. Biden has also approved several oil and gas projects sought by the fossil fuel industry.

He authorized an enormous $8 billion oil development in Alaska known as the Willow project. He also granted a crucial permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a project championed by Senator Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat, despite opposition from climate experts and environmental groups. Last month, the Biden administration also gave approval for an oil export project in Texas known as the Sea Port Oil Terminal, undeterred by opposition from climate activists.

Some oil and gas executives have said that they would prefer some of Mr. Biden’s regulations to remain, such as a rule requiring companies to detect and stop methane leaks from oil and gas wells. They said they wanted consistency rather than an endless pattern of regulatory whiplash where rules are enacted by one administration, repealed by the next and restored by the one after that.

Many, however, have attacked Mr. Biden’s policies and the industry has contributed heavily to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.

Although attendees were told that Mr. Trump’s event was an energy round table, waiting on the chairs of executives and lobbyists at Mar-a-Lago were printouts of PowerPoint slides dealing instead with illegal immigration.

Part of the meeting dwelled on immigration, and Mr. Trump declared he wanted separate divisions of Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters: one designated for immigrants who come across the border illegally, and the other for “Americans.”

The room was filled predominantly with oil and gas executives, including Mike Sabel, the chief executive and founder of Venture Global LNG Toby Rice, the president and chief executive of EQT Corporation; Jack Fusco, the chief executive of Cheniere Energy; and Nick Dell’Osso, the president of Chesapeake Energy.

Also in the room were Doug Burgum, the governor of North Dakota and a former Republican presidential candidate who has been acting as Mr. Trump’s point man on energy issues; and Mr. Hamm, the billionaire executive chairman of Continental Resources, which is among the biggest oil and gas drilling companies in Oklahoma and North Dakota.

Accompanied by his top political adviser, Susie Wiles, former aide Taylor Budowich and a fund-raiser, Meredith O’Rourke, Mr. Trump asked the executives to detail their concerns on energy issues, according to the two attendees.

The American Petroleum Institute, the nation’s top fossil fuel industry group, is running an eight-figure national advertising campaign to promote fossil fuels and “dismantle policy threats,” Mike Sommers, the chief executive of the trade group has said. Separately the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, which represents petroleum refiners, has started to buy ads in nine battleground states urging Americans to fight Mr. Biden’s regulation on tailpipe emissions.

And states with Republican attorneys general have filed legal challenges against most if not all of Mr. Biden’s regulations, including a suit announced on Thursday by 27 states arguing that the administration overstepped its authority in cracking down on smokestack pollution from power plants.

But Mr. Trump told executives they were not fighting hard enough. He also went on a rant about windmills, the attendees said. Mr. Trump has falsely claimed that wind turbines cause cancer and that offshore wind farms are “driving whales crazy.”

Mr. Trump did not request money in exchange for killing Mr. Biden’s climate regulations, the two people in the room maintained. Rather, the former president told executives that he was determined to squash what he considered anti-business policies, and that the oil industry should therefore want him to win and raise $1 billion to ensure his success.

Mr. Hamm has had Mr. Trump’s ear on energy issues dating back to the former president’s 2016 campaign, and pushed him to appoint Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency, where Mr. Pruitt denied the established science of climate change and unraveled environmental protections.

After Mr. Trump lost the 2020 election, Mr. Hamm briefly supported some of the former president’s rivals, including Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley. The oil tycoon appeared to have had a change of heart. Mr. Hamm donated $3,300 to Mr. Trump’s campaign last year, the maximum allowed for a primary contribution; and another $3,300 in March, according to campaign filings.

Mr. Hamm did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Mr. McKenna said Mr. Hamm continues to play an outsize role in Mr. Trump’s energy policy. “If Harold has an idea, the rest of us have to chase it around,” he said. “Harold Hamm wants that L.N.G. pause gone, he wants the California waiver and the tailpipe rule gone.”

California has for decades received waivers under the Clean Air Act that authorize it to set environmental rules that are tougher than federal regulations. To do business in California, automakers and other industries must comply with its rules. Mr. Trump has promised to revoke California’s waivers.

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