Volume 8, Number 5 - April 24, 2008
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USFS ‘Erred’ In Letting Stanley Energy Sit At Table
There was an unwelcome “third wheel” at an April 14 meeting between the offices of Gov. Dave Freudenthal and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) about upcoming environmental analyses over suspended oil and gas leases in the Wyoming Range.
And if the Wyoming governor says that third party’s role makes that process “extremely suspect” – with an October 2007 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Stanley Energy and Bridger-Teton National Forest – people listen.
A USFS regional spokeswoman stated this week when the agency became “fully aware of the impropriety” of Stanley’s level of participation they decided to limit its role.
Gov. Freudenthal fired off an April 22 letter to U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester Harv Forsgren voicing his strong displeasure with Stanley’s presence and role in the meeting, as well as with the MOU making Stanley an integral part of an important federal environmental analysis process.
“As you may know, representatives from my office were invited to participate in a meeting and two conference calls regarding the leasing Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the 44,720 acres in the Big-Piney Ranger District on the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF),” he wrote to Forsgren.
“They joined these conversations despite the odd decision by the (BTNF) to allow an interested stakeholder relative to a portion of these leases, Stanley Energy, and its attorneys to host the first meeting at Holland & Hart’s Cheyenne office and direct much of the conversation during the subsequent phone calls.”
The governor then reviewed the MOU outlining Stanley’s role and expectations in the BTNF environmental process. Stanley agreed to pay all contractor costs of the SEIS project after forest officials hired a consultant from a list approved by Stanley.
He wrote, “After reviewing the apparent (MOU) between Stanley and (USFS), the peculiar has now become extremely suspect and I now have serious doubts as to whether the state of Wyoming can continue to participate in what appears to be a compromised leasing SEIS.”
“Stanley should not be allowed to guide and fund the NEPA process to determine the fate of this very sensitive and closely watched block of leases in the Wyoming Range,” Gov. Freudenthal told Forsgren.
BTNF Supervisor Kniffy Hamilton signed the MOU on Oct. 16 2007 along with Stanley Energy Chairman of the Board Lewis Douglas of Denver.
Stanley Energy proposed earlier this year to swap 20,000 of its leased BTNF acres for access to an adjacent 5,300-acre unleased “inventoried roadless” parcel acres. However, BTNF confirmed then that Stanley’s parcels were within the suspended leases and “we couldn’t even entertain that right now.”
The MOU states the USFS would “consider the views of Stanley in choosing the Prime Consultant” and meet with Stanley “for the purpose of exchanging facts and/or information, and updating the status of the analysis … during the planning stages “ at key points in the process.
Wednesday, USFS Regional Forester Spokeswoman Erin O’Connor stated the MOU is “a standard template” used often between the Forest Service and stake holders footing the bill for its NEPA projects. “We regularly use third-party contractors to prepare EISs,” O’Connor said. “It is not uncommon for proponents to pay for the costs of contractors.”
She said the MOU “spells out Stanley Energy can be involved in schedule changes and discussions.” “So we will limit our discussions (that Stanley can participate in),” she said. “They won’t have a seat at the table when we are... deliberating about analysis that needs to be done.”
Hamilton also said Wednesday the USFS “made a mistake and we are working to correct it.”
Forsgren’s office received the governor’s letter Tuesday, O’Connor said, but Forsgren is away so the two haven’t talked yet. She stressed the agency finds working with the governor “invaluable.” “We value the relationship we have with the state of Wyoming and we value their involvement in the National Forest system,” she said. “We will continue to work with Gov. Freudenthal and his staff as a cooperating agency.”
The governor said in his letter to Forsgren the USFS decision “to change the current arrangement... implicitly acknowledges that Stanley’s participation to date has been suspect. “I do not think this will be enough to revive a tainted process.... Stanley and its attorneys may have gone below-decks but this still looks like a ship built with thei rtimber.”
BTNF Supervisor Hamilton addressed those concerns.
"I am devastated that this happened,” she said Wednesday. “I work so hard to build the public trust and then something like this happens. Iam going to pickup the pieces and make sure that all parties are keeping to the roles they are required to and work to earn back everyone's trust."
The SEIS process should not be tainted because it is only at the initial scoping period, O’Connor added. The deadline for public comments on scoping is April28 for the BTNF analysis of those 44,720 acres of suspended leases.
“As yet analysis has not begun,” she said. “We’re still gathering what our issues are for the (SEIS) analysis.”
The governor notes his opposition to energy leasing in the Wyoming Range and urges BTNF to halt the SEIS and restart it as a process underwritten by the USFS or as a Forest Plan amendment.
“The need to slow down and exercise caution is absolutely critical now that a cloud of controversy hangs heavily over the leasing SEIS,” he wrote.
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