(Promoted by Colorado Pols)
For years, we’ve known that the oil and gas industry will throw unlimited amounts of cash at preventing conservation initiatives that it believes might limit its ability to produce more resources and make more money. We also know that energy companies largely prefer to fight back on the mere concept of protecting land, water and wildlife rather than finding solutions that meet the goals of all parties.
That’s old news.
But how far will some elected officials go to waste taxpayer dollars fighting industry’s greedy battle as well?
Last week, Western Values Project released newly uncovered documents that show some Garfield County officials are more concerned with protecting the interests of oil and gas companies than in finding workable solutions to a difficult problem. Documents revealed by an open records request show county officials are using taxpayer dollars to wage a losing battle against the grain of compromise – which is the only way forward to avoid listing the Greater sage -grouse as endangered, an outcome absolutely no one wants.
It’s time to hold the County accountable. Here’s the story…
As oil and gas production in Colorado continues to expand quickly, conflicts between wildlife conservation needs and energy development will continue to be exacerbated due to the impacts of industrial operations. Garfield County is one such area. The Greater sage-grouse is in danger of being listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which gains its authority to do so from the Endangered Species Act.
To avoid such a drastic outcome, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service are now revising land use plans for millions of acres across the West. They have until the end of this year to finish those revisions, when FWS will determine whether the plans are strong enough to avoid a listing.
To be clear: there is no chance of avoiding a listing unless everyone comes to the table to find a commonsense solution.
Given that, you’d think Garfield County would do anything it could to prevent the sage grouse’s listing with notable consequences including significant impacts to oil and gas operations, ranching and farming. But instead, evidence suggests that county officials have decided they would rather spend taxpayer cash hiring industry consultants to dig their boots into the ground with a plan the BLM will never approve.
For example, in 2012, the County hired several consultants (with more than $200,000 in taxpayer money) to prepare an alternative plan for sage grouse. That plan would drastically reduce the amount of protected habitat, which would only further endanger this already imperiled species. Additionally, BLM is very unlikely to sign off on a plan so disparate with its own scientific findings, which ultimately makes it an unworkable solution.
Making matters worse, these are the very same consultants being used by the oil and gas industry to make the very same argument against the need for protected habitat.
For starters, Dr. Rob Roy Ramey is the biologist hired by Garfield County to draft its sage grouse plan. However, Dr. Ramey is also serving as a consultant to the oil and gas industry, and helped author comments filed in March 2012 and December 2013 by industry trade groups, including the American Petroleum Institute (API), Western Energy Alliance and Colorado Oil and Gas Association, on BLM’s proposed management plan for sage-grouse.
But that’s just the beginning. In February 2012, Dr. Ramey filed a declaration on behalf of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming in a federal court case concerning BLM’s management of sage grouse. In that declaration, Dr. Ramey claimed that the opinions of the “leading expert” (according to that federal court) on sage grouse “are seemingly designed to prevent oil and gas activities that are important for the Nation, as well as the local communities.”
Another one of the county’s consultants, Eric Petterson, works for URS Corporation, which also represents Chevron. According to one of the e-mails, URS is currently “helping Chevron with the sage grouse habitat discussion with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission [COGCC]. . . .” That “discussion” refers to a formal objection filed by Chevron in August 2013 against Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s revised sage-grouse habitat map, which at the time COGCC was considering adopting through its rulemaking process. Petterson provided the county with copies of Chevron’s filings, and billed the county for “phone calls with . . . industry consultants. . . .”
Finally, the records reveal that commissioners and their consultants met with Encana – an oil and gas company with substantial holdings in Garfield County – on at least two occasions over the past two years, including one meeting where the county briefed the company on its sage-grouse plan. That meeting took place just two days after the commissioners unanimously approved the plan.
That very plan is likely to meet resistance with BLM. Margaret Byfield, Executive Director of American Stewards for Liberty – one of the outside consultants hired by the county – assured the commissioners that BLM is required to “make its plans and policies consistent with the local plan.” This is not actually true, as the Federal Land Policy and Management Act requires consistency with local plans only to the extent those plans are “consistent with Federal law and the purposes of this Act.” What the county and taxpayers have spent money on then, remains unclear.
Ultimately no one wants to see this bird listed. The county is paying the people’s money to parrot an industry plan that represents the opposite of a workable solution with no accountability to County residents – until now.
Real solutions must involve local governments working constructively with BLM, rather than hiring industry consultants to attack the agency’s science. The conflict of interest we found in Garfield County is profound and ultimately taxpayers deserve more. Our government should spend its time and money bringing stakeholders to the table to prevent the listing in the first place, not hyperbole from industry lobbyists.