Common Cause releases the goods on GarCo and Uintah Commissioners

June 14, 2012

Garfield County, oil shale

Documents: Counties, oil shale lobbyists coordinated strategy
Emails counter claims that meeting was “informational,” Uintah stonewalls information

Denver, Colo. – Today, Colorado Common Cause released over 450 pages of documents obtained under open records requests in three states regarding a March 27th closed-door meeting on oil shale in Vernal, Utah.

The records confirm that the meeting was indeed organized with the intention of giving politicians and oil shale industry representatives the opportunity to create a political and legal strategy to support a Bush-era oil shale plan on western public lands.

“We have invited government leaders, industry representatives and legal council (sic) to attend the closed session meeting,” wrote Uintah County Commissioner Darlene Burns in a March 23rd email.

“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,” said Elena Nunez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause. “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.”

“We believe there was a violation and are considering all administrative and legal options,” continued Nunez.

Included in the records was a sign-in sheet for the meeting and confirmed that commissioners from counties in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming attended. Additional participants included Kathleen Clarke, the Utah governor’s public lands advisor, and oil shale industry interests including Jeff Hartley, government affairs consultant to Red Leaf Resources; Glenn Vawter, executive director of the National Oil Shale Association; Roger Day, vice president of operations of American Shale Oil (AMSO), and others.

Duchesne, Uintah, and Garfield Counties had two or more members in attendance forming a quorum, which triggers and calls into question the legality of the meeting under Utah and Colorado’s state open meetings laws. If legal action is taken, outcomes could include an official determination by a judge that a county acted illegally and invalidation of the oil shale resolution organized at the meeting and passed by counties in attendance.

The records also show that the National Oil Shale Association was afforded an opportunity to provide input on the resolution discussed at the meeting.

“We now know that the politicians gave industry the opportunity to make their mark on these resolutions,” said Nunez. “Unfortunately, it’s apparent that the public was purposefully and potentially illegally excluded from making theirs.”

Upon review, it also appears that Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee and Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky organized the Vernal meeting. This despite claims by Garfield County Commissioners that it was an “informational meeting” and characterizing it as Uintah County’s meeting.

“Here is the invitation I received to an oil shale meeting in Vernal set up by the County Commissioners of Garfield, Uinta (sic) County etal. (sic) Tom Jankovsky hopes that either or both Shell and AMSO can attend and talk about progress in CO, and asked me to pass along the invitation,” wrote Vawter in an email dated April 3rd.

Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky also explicitly stated in a March 23rd email, “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.” The PEIS refers to a draft revision to the Bush-era oil shale plan released earlier this year.

These emails contradict a May 2nd article in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent where Jankovsky said, “For our part, we made a few comments, but we were mostly there to listen.”

While Colorado Common Cause received hundreds of pages of documents, Uintah County is still refusing to disclose minutes from the closed-door meeting, along with other unspecified documents. The organization is planning to file an appeal of Uintah County’s decision to withhold those documents with the State of Utah’s records committee in the coming weeks.

Colorado Common Cause published the records online and the Checks and Balances Project reposted on the No More Empty Promises website so that the public had access to the records. Documents include emails between commissioners, the meeting sign-in sheet and a list of attendees, audio from the initial, “open” portion of the March 27th meeting, and presentations at the meeting.

Click here to access documents

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