Garfield County commissioners may have broken law to meet with oil industry behind closed doors

By Troy Hooper
The Colorado IndependentJune 19, 2012
Newly released documents confirm that politicians and industry representatives secretly met in March to hammer out a position on the Bureau of Land Management's plan to scale back available lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming for oil shale research and development.

A quorum of Garfield County, Colo., commissioners was present at the meeting in Vernal, Utah, according to the documents, released by the government watchdog group Colorado Common Cause.
Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky

“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.”

Since there was a quorum of Garfield County commissioners, as well as two counties in Utah (Duchesne and Uintah), the conference may have violated Colorado's open-meeting laws, Nunez said.

Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky
, who Common Cause said was a co-organizer of the closed-door meeting, previously told the Glenwood Springs Post Independent: “For our part, we made a few comments, but we were mostly there to listen.” But in a March 23 email, he wrote: “Our goal is to come up with a statement that all the counties in CO, UT, & WY affected by this [year's draft revision to the Bush-era oil shale plan] can sign off on and send to the BLM.”

A spokeswoman for Garfield County said the commissioners and the county manager have declined to answer any more media questions about the meeting in Vernal.

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, and other industry representatives met with commissioners from the three states and a sign-in sheet shows Kathleen Clarke, the Utah governor’s public lands adviser, also attended the meeting.

Jankovsky has also claimed he didn't know the conference was going to be private. But a March 23 email from Uintah County Commissioner Darlene Burns stated: “We have invited government leaders, industry representatives and legal council [sic] to attend the closed session meeting.”

The executive director of the National Oil Shale Association wrote in an April 3 email that Jankovsky played a pivotal role in the organization of the 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,” Vawter wrote.

If Colorado Common Cause or another party were to pursue legal action, outcomes could include an official determination by a judge that a county acted illegally and invalidation of the oil shale resolution that was organized at the meeting and passed by the counties in attendance.

“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.”

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