By Eli Watkins, CNN
Former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt has begun talks about becoming a consultant to Joseph Craft, a Kentucky coal baron, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
The report on the former Trump administration EPA head cited two industry executives who said Pruitt told executives at a Kentucky Coal Association meeting last week that he planned to develop a consulting firm. The executives told the Times that Pruitt would get other clients following Craft, the head of Alliance Resource Partners.
A statement from Heath A. Lovell, vice president of public affairs at Alliance, did not confirm or deny the discussions, but said talks so far would have been preliminary.
"In response to speculation, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is not an employee for Alliance Resource Partners, nor are there discussions of him becoming an employee," the statement read. "Any discussions that occurred between Mr. Craft and Mr. Pruitt are preliminary, and do not involve him becoming an employee of Alliance Resource Partners. Obviously, any discussions would not involve lobbying the federal government."
CNN has reached out to Pruitt for comment.
He entered office as someone largely opposed to the EPA's work under the Obama administration and offered a much warmer approach to the energy industry throughout his tenure.
In a report near the end of Pruitt's time as administrator, the Times highlighted Pruitt's close relationship with Craft in particular. The paper said Pruitt received premium tickets from Craft to a University of Kentucky basketball game, and an EPA spokesman said at the time that Pruitt and Craft were "longtime friends."
Craft is a major political donor who hosted a dinner at the Trump International Hotel that Pruitt attended, according to an internal calendar CNN reported on shortly before Pruitt's exit from office.
Pruitt's prospective move into consulting for an industry he formerly regulated would not include lobbying the federal government, one of the executives told the Times. As the paper noted, an order from President Donald Trump called on his appointees to pledge not to lobby their former agencies for at least five years after leaving office.
News of the talks came the same day the EPA released Pruitt's financial disclosure form showing he took on up to $300,000 in debt to legal firms over 2017.