Colorado Common Cause, an open-government advocacy group, claims that documents obtained from a March 27th closed-door meeting on oil shale prove the meeting to be a violation of state regulations and are seeking legal action against the counties. County commissioners discussed the Bureau of Land Management’s PEIS that seeks to reform Bush-era oil shale leases at the meeting and emerged from it in opposition to the reforms. Each county released similarly worded formal statements of opposition to the PEIS shortly after the meeting.
The closed-door meeting was held on March 27th between county commissioners and various state authorities, including public land directors and planning and zoning directors about the BLM’s new PEIS. The new PEIS is expected to shrink the amount of land made available for oil shale leasing and limit leasing to research until commercial operations are proven by the companies. Records obtained via an open records request by Colorado Common Cause show that the meeting was also attended by oil shale industry leaders, including Roger Day, the Vice President of of Operations for American Shale Oil (AMSO); Glen Vawter, the Executive Director of the National Oil Shale Association; and Jeff Hartley, a consultant for Red Leaf Resources.
“It’s outrageous that these counties shut the public out of the meeting but let oil-shale lobbyists from Red Leaf and others in the room,” Colorado Common Cause Executive Director Elena Nunez said. “The emails we obtained demonstrate state and local public officials meeting with industry behind closed doors to advance a policy position and develop a political strategy.”
Utah state officials say that the closed-door meeting was not illegal because state regulations allow for closed-door meetings on “imminent legislation,” which they claim the meeting was about. After the meeting, the counties in attendance released strongly worded formal statements of opposition to the BLM’s PEIS. One such statement from Garfield County in Colorado claims that the BLM is “encumbered by a host of anti-oil shale pro-wilderness groups steering the BLM’s every move.”
Below the jump: Colorado Common Cause’s next steps and a Garfield County Commissioner’s explanation of what the meeting was about.
Minutes and various other documents from the meeting have not been released by Uintah County. Colorado Common Cause is planning to appeal to have the documents released. Until these documents are released, any contention that the oil shale industry representatives helped formulate the anti-PEIS stance is purely speculative, although it is certain that they attended the meeting while the public was kept out and that the county commissioners took a very pro-oil shale stance afterward.
Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky called the meeting “informational” and told the Glenwood Springs Post Independent that the commissioners were there primarily to listen. However, in an email written on March 23, Commissioner Jankovsky stated that “our goal is to come up with a statement that all the counties in CO, UT, & WY affected by this PEIS can sign off on and send to the BLM.”Jankovsky also apparently organized the meeting, despite his claim that it was a Uintah County meeting.
If the legal action taken by Colorado Common Cause is successful than the statements released by the counties may be invalidated. The documents are available for public viewing on Colorado Common Cause’s website.