A former Department of Energy photographer has filed a federal whistleblower suit alleging he lost his job after leaking photos of a private meeting between Energy Secretary Rick Perry and a major Trump donor who heads one of the country’s largest mining companies.
The photographer, Simon Edelman, took photos of the March 29, 2017 meeting between Perry and Robert “Bob” Murray, the CEO of Ohio-based Murray Energy, who gave $300,000 to the Trump campaign.
The photographs show Perry and Murray embracing and Murray handing Perry a four-page confidential “action plan” for reviving the country’s struggling coal industry. The Associated Press and The New York Times obtained copies of the plan earlier this month and reported that it mirrors policy later pushed by the Trump administration.
Also at the meeting were Perry’s chief of staff and a coal company lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, who was later nominated by President Trump to serve as deputy administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Edelman says the day after the Dec. 6, 2017 publication of the photographs by the left-leaning In These Times, he was placed on administrative leave and his laptop, external hard drives and photo equipment were confiscated as he was escorted out of the DOE’s headquarters in Washington.
Edelman says he was later told that his employment agreement with the department would not be renewed.
In an interview with the AP on Wednesday, Edelman said that during the meeting, Murray outlined actions he wanted the Trump administration to take, which the news agency says “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.”
Edelman said he heard Perry respond, “I think we can help you on this,” according to the AP.
The New York Times reports, “In the complaint, Mr. Edelman accuses the agency of retaliation and asks for his job back or at least to recover his laptop and other personal belongings. In addition, Mr. Edelman accused a former colleague of encouraging him to delete the photos of Mr. Perry and Mr. Murray, which Mr. Edelman and his lawyer argue are public records.”
In an email from Department of Energy spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes reported in the Times, she called Edelman’s accusations “ridiculous.”
“They are based on his own subjective opinions and personal agenda,” Hynes said. “Industry and other stakeholders visit the Department of Energy on a daily basis. The secretary welcomes their input and feedback to strengthen the American energy sector. This meeting was no different.”
In August 2007, Murray became the public face of the Crandall Canyon mine disaster in Utah that killed nine people — six miners trapped initially and three others who attempted a rescue. At the time, Murray repeatedly insisted without evidence that the mine collapse was the result of a naturally occurring earthquake.
Although Murray Energy denied responsibility for the disaster, it subsequently received the third-largest fine ever levied against a coal company for “flagrant, reckless and highly negligent violations of mine safety law.”