Is Gov Mead’s exclusion charge against EPA hypocrisy?

— August 1, 2013

You can agree or disagree with all or parts of Gov. Matt Mead and his administration’s recent criticism of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s stance on regional haze. But there’s a group of Wyoming citizens who are somewhat privileged to take issue with Cheyenne’s complaints about being purposely left out EPA’s decision-making process.

Dustin Bleizeffer

They are the Pavillion area residents and Native Americans on the Wind River Indian Reservation who say they’ve been left out of Gov. Mead’s negotiations with EPA on the groundwater pollution investigation, which calls into question — among other things — whether fracking (hydraulic fracturing) plays a role.

But first, Gov. Mead’s complaint regarding EPA on regional haze:

In his written testimony to EPA, Gov. Mead said: “EPA has neither acknowledged nor responded to comments submitted last year by me and the DEQ. The EPA seems to have considered only one-sided comments – those that support EPA or believe the EPA should impose even greater costs on Wyoming. That is certainly not appropriate. Given the substantial impact of EPA’s proposal, I am dismayed that EPA is providing such an abbreviated public participation process here.”

Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) administrator Todd Parfitt stated in his written testimony to EPA: “EPA has applied SCR (Selective Comment Response) to the development of its re-proposal and the public comment process which is inappropriate.”

That’s some gutsy public skewering by Gov. Mead and one of Wyoming’s top state employees. Some might say a more accurate word is hypocritical — given the fact that Mead and his administration said these things exactly one month after admitting to purposely excluding Pavillion area residents from Mead’s own “closed doors” conversations with EPA regarding the future of the Pavillion groundwater pollution investigation.

Take it from John Fenton, Louis Meeks and many more Pavillion area residents: It’s a terrible feeling to be left out of important negotiations that will determine the future livelihood of your family and your neighbors.

Earlier this year, Gov. Mead and his administration apparently had their own exclusive audience with EPA and — against the wishes of Pavillion area residents — successfully convinced the agency in June to relinquish to the state its lead role in the Pavillion groundwater pollution investigation.

That’s right: When it came to another long-delayed, politically-charged case with implications to national policy, as well as implications for more than a handful of private citizens living in rural Wyoming, Gov. Mead and his staff thought it appropriate to negotiate a deal with EPA and Canadian-based oil and gas developer Encana — the prime suspect in fouling groundwater in the first place — while deliberately excluding the very citizens who have had to live with the pollution for years.

The excuse? “It was a collaborative process between EPA and Encana (and the state of Wyoming), and it had to come together before we announced it,” Gov. Mead’s spokesman Renny MacKay told WyoFile on June 24.

MacKay later added, “… this discussion about an ongoing investigation has been public over the last few years. Residents have been engaged in that process. The decision about who is best positioned to lead the further investigation required discussions between Wyoming and the EPA.”

The same can be said of Wyoming’s participation in the regional haze effort over the past 10 years. But apparently Mead’s administration didn’t use its closed door opportunity with EPA to discuss the future of Pavillion residents’ livelihoods to also discuss regional haze.

Are we to accept that only Gov. Mead and his staff are qualified to negotiate face-to-face with EPA behind closed doors on such important matters? The state certainly got its say in its lengthy, detailed regional haze state implementation plan, and during the 10-plus years of negotiations with EPA on the matter.

When private citizens or organizations that don’t necessarily support Gov. Mead’s policy priorities do get an audience with EPA without being accompanied by his administration, is it a conspiracy? Is it EPA favoritism to those who disagree or find fault with Gov. Mead’s policies or preferred strategies, or to those who just have it out for coal?

To be clear, EPA is just as much to blame as Cheyenne in not including Pavillion area residents in the negotiation about the Pavillion investigation. EPA is guilty of stonewalling the media and anybody else who asked questions about its sudden change of heart regarding the Pavillion investigation.

“EPA’s recent action violates clear federal policy requiring agencies to engage in meaningful consultation with Tribes before taking action affecting tribal property or other interests,” Darrell O’Neal, Sr., co-chairman of the Northern Arapaho Business Council wrote to WyoFile in June. “We request that EPA place its recent decision on hold until it fulfills its obligation to consult with the Northern Arapaho Tribe.”

WyoFile called Pavillion area resident John Fenton, who is among several citizens living with polluted groundwater, to get his reaction to Gov. Mead’s recent claims of being blocked from an EPA decision-making process.

“I’m just amazed that they’re that hypocritical,” Fenton said. “I knew there was hypocrisy, but that’s an insane way to act when they treated us they way they did. It seems there’s two standards: a standard for them and a standard for citizens.”

Gov. Mead also speculated about the agency’s motivation in allegedly blocking state experts from its regional haze decision.

“EPA has developed – behind doors closed to most of us – an extremely restrictive, extremely costly plan that achieves no benefit. This appears to be agenda-driven – one more regulatory tool in the EPA arsenal to kill coal,” Mead said in his written testimony.

The “kill coal” agenda may be true. It may also be true that EPA has chosen a more aggressive strategy to clear haze from the West’s national parks and wilderness areas because of its obligation to all Americans to provide the best stewardship possible of these resources — resources that are as vital to our sense being as they are to local economies.

It may also be true that the 2064 date set back in the 1970s for clearing haze from the West’s most treasured places is too low a bar given our evolving understanding of the issue and given today’s advanced technology to deal with it, and given the fact that one of the most significant control factors — man-made emissions — can be addressed at coal-fired power plants.

It’s reasonable and necessary to scrutinize whether Wyoming’s regional haze plan or EPA’s plan makes the best economic sense. But it’s also true that when Gov. Mead and his administration level claims of unfair political play they invite the same question of motivation to be leveled at them.

“DEQ, and (the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) — nobody would help me. I called everybody to help me,” Pavillion area resident Louis Meeks told WyoFile, adding that he’s against the state of Wyoming taking over the Pavillion investigation due to his lack of trust in Wyoming leaders on this matter.

“That’s why we went other ways, and that’s the reason we went to EPA Region 8,” Meeks added.

The Mead administration is well within its right to criticize EPA on any matter, and many Wyoming citizens will cheer the fervent tone in which they have launched their criticism against EPA in a very public manner. Some of those claims may even be legitimate. But their fervent complaining of being unfairly left out of EPA’s recent decision on regional haze hasn’t earned much sympathy from Pavillion area residents.

Mead and his administration have themselves to blame.

“What irritates me the most is that Encana was so involved and we were not involved,” said Fenton. “This is a case of karma coming back to bite them in the ass, so to speak.”

Gov. Mead and his staff made certain there’d be headlines about their disagreement with EPA over regional haze. They said there’s something more sinister than science behind the EPA’s actions. Can others also doubt the Mead administration’s purity of motive in it’s own back room deal with EPA regarding Pavillion?

Both the state and Encana have undoubtedly made many efforts to supply water to Pavillion area residents and involve them in collaborative efforts to push forward on the investigation. But other actions and words coming from Gov. Mead’s administration have worked against its ability to win over confidence of the very Wyoming citizens who deserve his representation and clout to push for real solutions.

The administration will argue that the interest of a foreign-based oil and gas developer was not held in higher regard than the interest of Mead’s own citizen constituents living in rural Wyoming. They’ll suggest not to read anything into the fact that Encana was invited to the Mead administration’s closed door negotiations with EPA while Pavillion area residents were not.

Tomorrow (Friday August 2) Mead’s administration will conduct a meeting of the Pavillion Working Group — a collection of stakeholders that includes Pavillion area residents. The meeting begins at 1 p.m. at the Holiday Inn in Riverton, and it’s open to the public. One item that’s not on the agenda, however, is whether the state or EPA will complete the long-delayed groundwater investigation. That decision has already been made — behind closed doors.

And that’s something to be dismayed about.

— Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. You can reach him at (307) 267-3327 or email dustin@wyofile.com. Follow Dustin on Twitter at @DBleizeffer

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Dustin Bleizeffer

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 22 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. When it comes to negotiating the issues resulting from situations thatd efibnitely have adverse effects on people’s livelihoods lifestyle, and quality of life, Guv Mead has shown a propensity for engotiating behind closed doors off the record with ( alleged) stakeholders NOT directly in the line of fire. Talk about Sequester.

    Case in point” the closed door meetings where Mead’s hired gun , former Wyo G&F Director Steve Ferrell ( sp), hand carried the Guv’s battle plan for delisting Wolves to 13 closed door sessions around the state, where Ferrell preached to the choirs of ranchers and hunters and partisans, toe veryone EXCEPT the genuine wildlife cosnervationists and wold proponents. They were excluded. The attendance roster at these meetings was either approved by Ferrell or submitted by the likes of the anti-wolf Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife chapter in the case of the Cody meeting.

    The administration of Matt Mead is very far from being open and inclusive on too many issues. His energy policy thinking and public participation in same is as opaque as coal tar, as we see so clearly here.

    I confess. I sent Matt two lumps of coal in warm fuzzy Christmas stockings with his name on them last December , to hang above the fireplace at the Governor’s Mansion. Signed my name to the card. One coal sock for his balls to the wall industry compliant Energy Policy, the other for his wolf-killing plan. I didn;t want to overdo it, but I could’ve sent a lot more coal-fired socks .

    Good summary, Dustin.

  2. To expect any rulings against Encana by the ‘Exxon Protection Agency’, or in this case, the ‘Encana Protection Agency’, is ludicrous, Big Oil runs this state, and the country for that matter, if there were to be a ruling against big oil, it would be a slap on the wrist and a $20.00 dollar fine. Encana’s track record is dismal, at best, tar sands anyone?
    Pavilion? Money/ Big Money, trumps peoples lives and livelihood!

  3. The other comparison between Pavillion and regional haze worth making here is in both cases the Governor and the state came to the defense of energy companies. In both cases citizens asked EPA to step in and exercise oversight because the state wasn’t doing the job. In both cases, Wyoming government successfully disenfranchised and marginalized those with opposing viewpoints because they wouldn’t give those viewpoints the time of day. Perhaps that is the comparison to be making here.

  4. This is an interesting story for comparison purposes. However, in the case of regional haze, EPA’s decisions have been made through a very public rulemaking process. The State of WY, conservation groups, and citizens all had the opportunity to submit comments last summer, and indeed we all did. EPA then took those comments and made its decisions. They didn’t have any “closed-doors” meetings with any stakeholders, but instead weighed the facts, science, and technical information among their staff. The new proposed plan is currently going through the same very public rulemaking process and then EPA will make its final decision, again, without any closed-doors meetings or shutting anyone out of their decision-making process. The Governor may be complaining that EPA isn’t giving the state the extraordinary consideration they think they deserve, but in the case of regional haze EPA is making its decision based on technical information as opposed to political rhetoric (unlike perhaps Pavillion).