Wyoming journalist and WyoFile contributor Rone Tempest has filed a complaint against the U.S. Department of Energy alleging it is unlawfully withholding records regarding the 2012 suspension of federal stimulus grants totaling $9.9 million to North American Power Group for the Two Elk carbon sequestration site characterization study in northeast Wyoming.
Tempest filed the complaint on August 22, 2014, in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming. The case was assigned to Judge Nancy Freudenthal and may be referred to U.S. Magistrate Kelly Rankin, pending consent of both parties.
Tempest made a Freedom of Information Act request to DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory in April 2013 for the records. NETL denied the request, claiming it was exempt from disclosure because of an “ongoing investigation” into the matter. Tempest appealed the denial later in 2013 and lost on the same grounds with the agency claiming that there was “pending enforcement action.”
However, Tempest asserts that “more than two years and seven months after the initial suspension of the stimulus grants, there has been no enforcement action in the case,” according to the complaint.
WyoFile’s continuing coverage of the Two Elk federal stimulus story includes a 7-part series “The Two Elk Saga” published in June 2014.
“I interviewed more than a dozen people who had direct involvement in the Two Elk stimulus project, including several who expressed their willingness to speak with federal investigators,” Tempest said. “However, I found no clear trail of a serious probe into a project that cost taxpayers $7.7 million before it was suspended.”
The Two Elk stimulus project grants were suspended by DOE officials in January 2012 due to “accounting irregularities.” The project was subsequently audited by the DOE Inspector General and forwarded to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Pittsburgh, Pa., for review. There the case has remained in the hands of Pittsburgh-based assistant U.S. attorney Paul Skirtich, a specialist in prosecutions under the federal False Claims Act.
—Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. He has covered energy and natural resource issues in Wyoming for 15 years. You can reach him at (307) 267-3327 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Dustin on Twitter at @DBleizeffer
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Kelly Rankin is a US Magistrate now? Cripes. he was the most politically ambitious County attorney we had here in Cody ( also Judge Nancy Freudenthal’s home town ).
Even at a relative young age for an elected County Attorney , 30-something , Rankin was already cemented in as being hardnosed hardassed and hardheaded in his prosecutorial ways. But he was also a very strident very partisan very ideologic Republican Party soldier. That part was even scarier .
That is not a Judge I would ever want to be cast before. If it does end up on Rankin’s docket, he can build a stone wall to rival the best of the magisterial masons. At least Nancy has an even keel and does not list to starboard…
Good luck with the FOIA challenge. The public deserves to know.