Energy Dept. Photog: I Was Fired for Photos of Rick Perry and Coal CEO

A former US Department of Energy photographer is accusing the US government of firing him for leaking photos of a private meeting between energy secretary Rick Perry and a big coal CEO.

The New York Times reports that in his position, as is common for official government photographers, Simon Edelman regularly attended meetings with Perry and captured photos for official purposes.

In late 2017, Edelman attended a private meeting between Perry and Robert E. Murray, the CEO of one of America’s largest coal mining companies, Murray Energy, which had donated money to Perry’s political campaigns and $300,000 to Trump’s inauguration.

One photo Edelman snapped at the meeting showed Perry and Murray hugging. Another showed the men sitting around a conference table. Others showed the cover sheet of a confidential “action plan” brought by Murray that outlined policy and regulatory changes that would aid the coal industry.

Edelman wanted to “expose the close relationship between the two men” and “derail” Perry’s subsequent proposals that were based on Murray’s action plan, so Edelman later shared the photos anonymously with journalists, who then widely published the pictures (they were first published in the magazine In These Times). Democrats and environmental groups quickly pounced on the leak and pointed to the photos as “evidence of the energy industry’s direct line to Mr. Perry,” the Times reports.

One day after the photos were first published, Edelman was placed on administrative leave. Edelman says a former colleague had encouraged him to delete the photos he shot, which he argues are public records. His personal laptop was seized, and he was escorted out of the Department of Energy’s headquarters. Later he was told that his employment agreement wouldn’t be renewed.

Edelman is now accusing the Energy Department of retaliation and is seeking the protections given to federal whistle-blowers.

The New York Times points out that on its website, “the Energy Department notes that it is illegal to retaliate against whistle-blowers, who are typically protected when they alert a supervisor or the inspector general to information that they reasonably believe to constitute an abuse of authority, or other misconduct.”

Edelman is asking for the return of his job, or, at the very least, his laptop and his personal belongings.

“[Edelman’s claims] are based on his own subjective opinions and personal agenda,” department spokesperson Shaylyn Hynes tells the Times. “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.”

“They’re angry at me, but I didn’t do anything wrong,” Edelman tells the Associated Press. “The Department of Energy are the ones breaking the law. And they kept all my stuff.”

Image credits: All photos by Simon Edelman/Department of Energy