From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 104, Number 14 - April 5, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

PAWG and task groups have many open seats

by Julia Stuble

The oft-discussed Pinedale Anticline Working Group (PAWG) and its subsidiary task groups have all lost members recently, leaving open seats to be filled by ambitious agency or industry representatives, and citizens. Some departures come from personal decisions by the representatives, and some in response to the very problems PAWG has faced since its birth. Nevertheless, the PAWG is down by three members, and most task groups are running with 50 percent less members than originally envisioned. The PAWG was chartered as an adaptive management advisory group for the BLM upon approval of the Pinedale Anticline gas field. Overseeing several task groups, the PAWG makes recommendations to the BLM as to mitigation and monitoring on the Anticline.

Ultimately, PAWG is under the jurisdiction of the federal government as it is chartered under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). According to FACA regulations, no one with vested financial interest may sit on an advisory board. Industry officials are allowed to sit on the task groups, as those are not technically under FACA.

Currently, PAWG has six members, including Robin Smith, representing industry; Nylla Kunard, representing the Town of Pinedale; Betty Fear for Sublette County; Paul Hagenstein, Anticline livestock operators; Steve Duerr, public at large; and Cathy Purvis representing the environmental community. Former chair Dave Bell left the PAWG in December for personal reasons. Mary Flanderka, the state representative, left in February after switching jobs, and has yet to be replaced. Sandy Wise, who was chair after Bell, left last month as well. Wise, who runs a geologic consulting firm Industrial Minerals, said he left for a personal reason also. “I felt there are some things that I wanted to do that may come in conflict with PAWG,” Wise commented.

Wise was a public at large representative. PAWG was only just revived last fall, after a period of inactivity while the Interior Department endeavored to fill empty seats vacated in the spring. Several of the former PAWG members felt they had been pushed out because of timing issues with their re-application, however, the Pinedale BLM office vehemently denied this allegation.

The last charter of PAWG became mired when its process of making and forwarding recommendations to the BLM fell into a mess of misunderstandings and unclear expectations. For this new charter, BLM representatives tried to explain exactly what types of recommendations would be helpful. However, for some members of the current task groups, this was taken as a type of control that limited their effectiveness or usefulness. Three task groups, which address the most contentious issues on the Anticline, have recently lost members, or become defunct a year ago, as the result of the same disenchantment seen in the last PAWG.

Air Quality Task Group

The Air Quality Task Group has five missing members. Two, representing the public at large, just recently left. Perry Walker and William Belveal resigned, with Walker expressing disgust at the running of PAWG, the BLM, and ultimately, the federal government, which oversees PAWG. Belveal would not comment on the reasons for his resignation. The Air Quality Group is also missing town, county and consultant representatives. Five people now sit on the board, two from the oil and gas industry, two from government agencies, and one, Jonathan Ratner, representing the environmental community. Ratner, who says he will stay on the committee, expressed the now-typical disenchantment with PAWG.

“The BLM has basically ignored everything we’ve done in the past three and a half years,” Ratner explained. Of the BLM’s dictum that everything in the diverse groups be decided with 100 percent consensus, Ratner said that the group’s recommendations, as it was “fairly heavily weighted with industry” tend to be tempered down.

Ratner also disliked industry’s presence on the task group. “What you have is a system where people who do have a financial interest in the outcome are setting the agenda for recommendations that go to the BLM,” Ratner said. Perry Walker, a local air quality scientist, places the blame higher up. “There are too many dominant directives from D.C. that is driving Pinedale and Cheyenne [BLM offices]. PAWG is just theatre,” Walker commented, who added that “we had even had to beg and cajole the current PAWG to read our annual report.”

Cara Keslar, from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and chair of the Air Quality group, noted that the group’s 2005 Annual Report was submitted to the former charter, and handed up to the new one. “We haven’t gotten comments on our 2005 Annual Report yet,” she said. However, Keslar was positive about PAWG’s response to air quality recommendations, calling them “very receptive.”

Walker disagreed, noting that the PAWG “demonstrates a total disinterest for receiving input from the air quality task group. They have recognized that is a sticky wicket they don’t want to deal with.” Walker thought the 100 percent consensus rule was “unattainable” and that often the recommendations “were very vanilla.” Of that dictate, Keslar said, “You have so many different viewpoints that a lot of us have to bend a little.”

Wildlife Task Group

The Wildlife Task Group, charged with making recommendations to the BLM to mitigate effects on wildlife on the Anticline, has been inactive for over a year. Former chair Rollin Sparrowe explained that the dissolution of the Wildlife group was at the hands of BLM and PAWG ineffectiveness and dismissal.

The group asked the former PAWG to review a study done by an outside consultant that looked into BLM’s monitoring of companies on the Mesa. No response was made, making Sparrowe doubt PAWG had looked at the study.

Then, Pinedale Field Manager Dennis Stenger vetoed two recommendations made by the group and passed through PAWG. These two recommendations dealt meant to mitigate deteriorating mule deer populations on the Mesa’s winter range. One asked for no further loss from the Mesa winter range herd, and the next for no further loss of usable Mesa winter habitat. “We considered that inadequate commitment,” Sparrowe said, noting that many of the members began to drift off when their recommendations were dismissed.

“The working group members went their separate ways. We were waiting for something to happen,” he said. When the new PAWG requested that Sparrowe chair the group once again, he declined the offer. Noting that the BLM “has controlled the agenda” and that many of his group’s members bristled at the limitation BLM dictated about recommendations for only “post-decisional advice on monitoring,” he said it was “difficult to get a lot of participation.” “This is a classic way not to conduct a public process,” Sparrowe noted. If PAWG were to succeed, he said it would “need to be reconstituted in a way that gave a charge to a committee and let them work. If it’s going to be manipulated by the BLM it is not worth it.”

Socioeconomic Task Group

“We really are defunct,” described chair Carmel Kail of the also-inactive socioeconomic task group. This group, which has also not met for over a year, is in discussions to see if it will be officially disbanded. PAWG member Nylla Kunard, from the Town of Pinedale, will be discussing with Kail if the group will continue, said BLM Planner Caleb Hiner.

“I don’t feel we have any audience,” Kail said of her group. A member who wished to remain unnamed noted that the group hadn’t been sure if its input to the BLM was “that valuable” to the agency, and started to drop out.

Other groups

The cultural-historical and reclamation groups’ chairs both reported positive dealings with the PAWG and BLM. Cultural-historical operates with six members and three BLM liaisons, said chair Clint Gilchrist. Gilchrist said that his group “is very effective and work well together.” Reclamation has about nine members, says chair Adrianne Peterson, who said that they have seen some recommendations implemented by the BLM.

Water resources task group is missing about half of the members listed on the BLM’s web site, but chair Gene George attested to their activity and effectiveness with PAWG.

From the BLM’s perspective, the missing members and disenchantment will be dealt with by advertising the seats and filling up the PAWG and task groups once again. Of complaints against industry representatives on the groups, Hiner said, “I’m not positive why industry is placed on the task groups,” but mused, “The entire concept of federal advisory committees is that everyone has equal access to the government to keep it fair and balanced.” When asked about the 100 percent consensus rule, he explained, “If industry, the environmental community and the public can all agree on something, that weighs heavily with us.”

Can PAWG succeed when it cannot escape from its history of allegations of ineffectiveness, and government control? Former chair Wise commented “I think PAWG has a very good opportunity to be effective. There are some good things that PAWG can do with recommendations to the BLM.”

Sparrowe disagrees, and thinks more hope lies in a citizen’s group that is not governed by the BLM, and expressed interest in starting one up to address multiple issues in the Upper Green. Ratner thinks PAWG was “designed to fail.” “I like the idea of the PAWG in terms of getting input from a wide group of interested experts. In theory, I think it’s a good idea but in practice you do all this work and it doesn’t amount to anything. The BLM could not care less what takes place in the community forum that PAWG represents,” he explained. “I don’t think PAWG is salvageable,” Walker said.

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