Department of Energy Photographer Fired After Leaking Photos of Meeting Between Rick Perry and Coal CEO

January 18, 2018
Alex Lubben

A staff photographer for the Department of Energy was fired after leaking photos of Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s meeting with a coal baron who donated generously to President Donald Trump’s campaign.

The photographer, Simon Edelman, is seeking whistleblower protections, according to the New York Times, after leaking two photos he snapped during a meeting between Perry and Robert Murray last March. Murray is a coal tycoon who runs Murray Energy and has met numerous times with members of the Trump administration.

The photos, published by the left-leaning In These Times magazine, show Perry hugging Murray and a series of images of the “Action Plan” that Murray’s company prepared for Perry. Edelman, who was present during the meeting, thought that Murray convinced Perry to shift his department’s policies in a way that would benefit coal producers like himself. 

The “Action Plan” appears to outline broad changes to federal policy that are not limited to the Department of Energy. The plan calls for replacing certain members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee and the Tennessee Valley Authority, which are under the Department of Energy’s purview. But it also singles out members of the National Labor Relations Board (which has an “anti-employer bias,” according to the report) and calls for slashing the Environmental Protection Agency’s staff by “at least half.”

The report also calls for the Department of Energy “to assist in the survival of our country’s coal industry, which is essential to power grid reliability.” 

When Perry proposed a rule in September that would give subsidies to coal and nuclear power plants that could stockpile more than 90 days worth of fuel on-site, he justified it as increasing “reliability and resiliency of our nation’s grid.” That phrase sounded familiar to Edelman, and he subsequently leaked the photos. 

A day after the story was published, the Department of Energy seized Edelman’s laptop and placed him on administrative leave. He was later told that his employment agreement would not be renewed, according to internal emails reviewed by the New York Times

“The assertions that this individual has made about Secretary Perry and the Department of Energy are ridiculous. They are based on his own subjective opinions and personal agenda. Industry and other stakeholders visit the Department of Energy on a daily basis," DOE Spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes told VICE News. "The Secretary welcomes their input and feedback to strengthen the American energy sector. This meeting was no different.”

Edelman is now seeking whistleblower protections, and has filed a complaint with the Department of Energy's inspector general, asking for his job, or, at the very least, his laptop back.