Conservation groups say county commissioners may have violated open meeting laws
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY —County commissioners from three states — Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — cozied up with energy company executives and lobbyists at a closed-door meeting in Utah last spring to try and unify support for a Bush-era oil shale plan.
Several hundred pages of documents released June 14 by Colorado Common Cause show clearly that the meeting went far beyond the informational purposes cited by some of the county officials, to adopting a draft resolution opposing the Bureau of Land Management’s latest scaled-back version of an oil shale plan.
Conservation advocates say the participation in the meeting by elected county officials may have been unethical at best and illegal at worst, in violation of open-meeting laws.
“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.”
Open meeting laws are designed to give the public access to their elected officials and to ensure that they don’t make decisions affecting constituents without giving those constituents a chance to provide input.
At issue are two versions of a federal plan to lease lands for oil shale research, exploration and possible development. The Bush-era plan was widely panned across the region. Under the Obama adminstration, and pursuant to a court-ordered settlement, the BLM revised the plan, cutting back the areas proposed for oil shale activities by about 90 percent.
The new draft study, released in February 2012, identifies about 35,000 acres in Colorado as suitable for oil shale activities. That, apparently, is not enough for some of the county commissioners who attended the March meeting in Utah, where the representatives adopted a resolution opposing the revised BLM plan.
“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.”