Mr. Craft gained access to the tickets as a major financial backer of the university, having donated more than $10 million to the school to help build basketball and football training facilities, both of which bear his name. His wife, Kelly Knight Craft, was previously a trustee of the university and a prolific Republican fund-raiser until she was appointed by Mr. Trump last year as United States ambassador to Canada.
Mr. Craft, 67, and Mr. Pruitt, 50, have deep ties to Kentucky. Mr. Pruitt, who was born and raised in the state, briefly played baseball at the University of Kentucky on a scholarship; Mr. Craft, also a Kentucky native, earned both his undergraduate and law degrees from the university. Both men later advanced their professional lives in Oklahoma, where Alliance has its corporate headquarters and where Mr. Pruitt served as a Republican state lawmaker and attorney general before joining the Trump administration.
The two met in Oklahoma in the mid-2000s, Mr. Lovell said, when Mr. Pruitt sought out the coal executive after his hearing about his connection to Kentucky sports. Mr. Craft owns a mansion in Tulsa about a mile from Mr. Pruitt’s home.
Their targeting of the Obama-era controls imposed on the coal industry has angered environmentalists, who praised efforts by the E.P.A. under the Obama administration to reduce lead and other toxic substances in power plant emissions, while also addressing climate change concerns related to carbon dioxide releases.
“The slash-and-burn approach Pruitt is taking to regulation may not materially affect outcomes in the coal industry,” said Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, an environmental advocacy group. “But it’s not going to stop them from trying in the short term, health and safety be damned.”
Coal companies have welcomed what they consider a sea change in the federal government’s approach to balancing business interests with environmental protections. The industry, a shadow of its former self in terms of production and employment, views the Trump administration as offering it an overdue lifeline.
“The fact that industry no longer has an adversary in its government, and specifically at the E.P.A., is a huge step forward in common-sense regulation,” said Ashley Burke, a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association.