Politics

Text Messages Show Trump’s Top Offshore Safety Regulator Trawling for Industry Praise

“I’m ok with constructive criticism.”

Scott Angelle gives a thumbs=up in front of photo of an oil rig
YouTube

Scott Angelle, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, brought a very particular set of relationships to his job running the government agency largely responsible for regulating the offshore oil and gas industry. Angelle’s predecessor, former Vice Adm. Brian Salerno, had spent 36 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, working on maritime safety, security, environmental protection, and emergency response. Angelle had spent six months as Louisiana’s lieutenant governor before helping lead the push to lift then–President Barack Obama’s drilling moratorium after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but his familiarity with the industries he regulates went back before that.

From a New York Times report on the Trump administration’s rollback of offshore drilling regulations:

Mr. Angelle was paid $1 million to serve for four years on the board of directors at Sunoco Logistics, a pipeline company. And when he ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2015, he benefited from large contributions from the industry. One of these was a $1.25 million donation to Louisiana Rising, a political action committee that backed him, from a top executive at an oil and gas company that then had hundreds of Gulf platforms. Mr. Angelle promised voters that he was “fighting for Louisiana’s energy industry” in one advertisement.

Even with these implicit and explicit industry sympathies, though, Angelle still seems to feel the need to reassure oil and gas executives that he is, in fact, their man. As John Oliver uncovered back in 2018, Angelle publicly read off his phone number at a meeting of industry leaders—urging them to call rather than text since “everything you text to me is a public record, so be careful.”* He also noted that “this is a business opportunity for you to engage with me on what you believe we ought to be about.”

Despite Angelle’s invitation to circumvent federal record-keeping requirements, plenty of oil industry insiders were more than happy to share their thoughts with new pal on the inside via text. And now, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request by the environmental nonprofit PEER that was shared with the government watchdog group Democracy Forward (which then shared it with Slate), we can get a firsthand look at what some of those friendly text sessions looked like.

There is, predictably, plenty of sucking up to Angelle by key players in the oil and gas industry. Less expected, though, is what typically precedes that sucking up: near-direct requests from Angelle for praise. Angelle repeatedly sent various oil and drilling executives the same YouTube video of himself addressing industry folks, begging his correspondents’ feedback. They were almost always eager to comply.

In September of 2018, for instance, Angelle sent a video of remarks he’d given to the American Legislative Exchange Council to Lynne Hackedorn, the current director of government affairs for Talos Energy Inc. and then–land and regulatory consultant for Marubeni Oil & Gas. He evidently was hoping to get Hackedorn’s approval on the agency’s “messaging.”

Screenshot of a text conversation
Slate

You can watch that video in question here:

Previously, that same video was also sent to an offshore worker in Texas.

Screenshot of a text conversation
Slate
Screenshot of a text conversation
Slate

And again, to Chet Morrison, who owns an oil and gas contracting company in Louisiana.

Screenshot of a text conversation
Slate

Lynne Hackedorn, though, was also lucky enough to receive a link to one of Angelle’s radio interviews:

Screenshot of a text conversation
Slate

You can hear that one here:

In October of 2018, Scott once again asked his oil and gas buddy Lynne for feedback, this time specifically requesting constructive criticism. He can take it, he assured her.

Screenshot of a text conversation
Slate

Emboldened by his call for raw honesty, Hackedorn gave it to him straight.

Screenshot of a text conversation
Slate

Another oil and gas friend named Mike (no last name noted) also found himself blessed with a link to Angelle’s radio interview.

Screenshot of a text conversation
Slate

And just a few months later, Mike’s passion for Angelle’s YouTube addresses seemed to pay off.

Screenshot of a text conversation
Slate

Mike Lawson, a then–vice president at Houston-based offshore drilling contractor Rowan Companies, even got a preview of Angelle’s video message to an association of industry insiders.

Screenshot of a text conversation
Slate

Here are the best 18 minutes Lawson spent that week, if you would like to include them in your own week:

Despite that ringing endorsement, oil and energy insiders like Lawson would do well to remember that Scott Angelle is a sensitive soul who worries deeply about their approval. Please don’t forget to keep reminding him how much you care.

Screenshot of a text conversation
Slate

Two months ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that Angelle asked an agency engineer “to delete language from memos showing that the changes would contradict guidance from the agency’s own engineers.* From the WSJ article:

“What these communications show is that the agency was not relying on expertise,” said Richard Revesz, dean emeritus of New York University School of Law and an expert on environmental and regulatory legal matters. “It was making a political decision that went against the advice of the experts and the experts were being sidelined.”

Perhaps those experts should have spent more time watching Scott Angelle on YouTube and telling him how well he did.

Correction, April 24, 2020: This piece originally misspelled John Oliver’s first name. This piece also misstated the date a Wall Street Journal report about Angelle was published. It was February, not last month.