Powerful coal executive edges closer to White House

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Joe Craft, the chief executive of one of the nation’s biggest coal companies and a major Republican bank roller, is on the verge of moving even closer into the White House inner circle.

President Donald Trump proposed in February that Craft’s wife, Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft, become the next U.S. envoy to the United Nations, which would give her a front-row seat to the international climate talks that have huge implications for Joe Craft’s business.

As CEO of the Tulsa, Okla.-based coal empire Alliance Resource Partners, Joe Craft is already an active player in Washington when it comes to energy policy.

For example, key actors from Trump to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell mounted an unsuccessful last-second public campaign to get the Tennessee Valley Authority to reverse course on shuttering a power plant Alliance supplied last month. The federal power utility determined its Paradise Unit 3 facility in Kentucky, along with the Bull Run power plant in Tennessee, was too expensive to keep running.

“He’s got a keen understanding of the legislative and regulatory process, and increasingly the energy business is intertwined with government policy,” a federal government official who knows Joe Craft said. “He knows a lot of people. A lot of people respect him and he’s a prominent figure, so I imagine he can pick up the phone and call anybody.”

McConnell recommended Kelly Craft for the U.N. position. The couple gave $2 million to Trump’s political efforts through campaign donations and a share of his inauguration, according to OpenSecrets.org and Federal Election Commission filings.

“He’s been a longtime supporter of Republican candidates and causes,” Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.), to whom Joe Craft has donated, told POLITICO. “I think Joe is pretty well-known by Cabinet members, by the president, by the vice president.”

Craft’s company also weighed in to nix potential nominee David Hill from joining the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in part because Hill criticized the administration’s intent to bail out economically distressed coal and nuclear power plants. Those bailout plans have run aground due to legal concerns. FERC is now considering whether certain facilities going offline would present a problem for maintaining a steady, secure supply of electricity, as proponents of incentives for cash-strapped generators have claimed. Craft would stand to benefit from such interventions.

Craft has also had sway at the EPA, which has been at the center of efforts to lessen the regulatory burden on coal. Craft regularly communicated with former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, with whom he bonded over their Kentucky roots and Oklahoma careers: Pruitt lived in Tulsa when he was the state’s attorney general. The New York Times reported last June that Pruitt secured prime tickets for a college basketball game at the University of Kentucky, where Craft is a major fan and booster. (The team’s practice facility bears his name.)

“He has his own transportation so he can drop in on a UK ballgame and then fly into Washington to meet with the Trump administration for breakfast the next morning,” said Dave Adkisson, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, who visited the Crafts with the chamber’s board of directors in Canada last October.

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