Hagan seeks hearing on political targeting

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Documents released last week show the Governor John Kasich administration and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources planned to promote oil and gas drilling in state parks while targeting environmental groups and two state representatives who stood in their way.

The Sierra Club obtained a 2012 memo about this meeting through a public records request. The memo outlines the plan to promote fracking in parks and state forests, and labels environmental groups and State Rep. Nickie Antonio of Cleveland and Bob Hagan of Youngstown as “adversaries” to oil and gas drilling efforts.

The state said the plan was discussed but never implemented. On Tuesday in Columbus, Hagan and Antonio called on the Speaker of the House to hold hearings on the plan.

“To ask the governor, and the governor’s staff, and those that have been involved in this, to explain to us why they have targeted two legislators and groups that have stood up against them, against drilling in state parks,” Hagan said. “The governor is quick to jump in bed with Halliburton and the oil and gas companies, with no apparent regard for the legitimate concerns of Ohio citizens. This document raises a lot of questions regarding taxpayer resources being used to play politics, and taxpayers deserve answers.”

Gov. Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols emailed the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

“Representative Hagan and the Sierra Club, one of the largest, secretly-funded groups on the planet, have a pact to try and kill the fracking jobs that are helping Mr. Hagan’s own communities get back on track. It’s pretty hard to reason with folks bent on that kind of self-destruction.”

A 2011 law opened up state parks and other land in Ohio to oil and gas drilling, but it hasn’t happened. Nichols said the law called for a state oil and gas commission to be created to authorize drilling activity, but Kasich has opted not to appoint the panel yet because the governor doesn’t believe the regulatory structure around the practice is mature enough.

Top administration officials met with department leaders about the plan, the governor’s spokesman acknowledged Tuesday. Invitees to that meeting included Kasich’s chief policy adviser, chief of staff, legislative liaison and then-environmental czar Craig Butler, whom Kasich recently appointed to lead the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Nichols downplayed his earlier claims that the administration had no knowledge of the plan.

“I don’t know what specific pieces of paper different people saw a year and a half ago, but of course the administration is going to coordinate and plan ahead on an important issue like gas production on state land,” he said in an email.

A memo outlining the communications strategy was released Friday. It labeled the so-called eco-left, including the Sierra Club, Ohio Environmental Council and others as adversaries. Halliburton and other energy companies the department is charged with regulating were named as allies, as were national, local and state chambers of commerce.

The proposal, created by a senior department official assigned to special projects, suggested enlisting allied groups to counteract “zealous resistance by environmental activist opponents, who are skilled propagandists.”

A final draft was dated Aug. 20, 2012, the same day a state email indicates that Kasich’s top policy adviser, Wayne Struble, had scheduled a meeting on the matter. Asked Tuesday whether the meeting took place, Nichols said, “I think so, yes.”

ProgressOhio, a liberal group that joined in the Sierra Club’s release of the documents, called it a “Nixonian” government-enemies list.

The memo theorized that Ohio families would be vulnerable “to messaging by opponents that the initiative represents dangerous and radical state policy by Gov. Kasich.” It anticipated that environmentalists would attempt to slant news coverage, incite public panic over health risks and physically halt drilling.

At the same time, the memo noted that partnering with drilling interests “could blur public perception of ODNR’s regulatory role in oil and gas.”

The department has not said who ordered the proposal to be drafted, how much it cost, or whether any outside organization was involved. Natural Resources spokesman Mark Bruce said Friday the plan was more than a year old and he was not aware of how it came about.

The plan singles out Halliburton among energy companies to be considered allies.

State records show Halliburton’s lobbyist in Ohio is Dwayne Siekman, a vice president at The Strategy Group Company, whose Delaware, Ohio, address he lists on his registration. The firm’s sister company, Strategy Group for Media, handles Kasich’s political communications. A representative said Tuesday the firm had no role in crafting the state plan.

The following is a list of stakeholders included in a draft communications plan crafted by the state in August 2012 to build public support for oil and gas drilling under Ohio’s state parks and forests. The list was provided by the ODNR.

ALLIED GROUPS AND FORUMS, BUSINESS SECTOR:

  • Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce
  • Cambridge Area Chamber of Commerce
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce
  • Ohio Chamber of Commerce
  • Ohio Oil and Gas Association
  • Halliburton
  • America’s Natural Gas Alliance
  • FracFocus

OPPOSITION GROUPS AND FORUMS:

  • Sierra Club
  • Ohio Environmental Council
  • OhioFracktion
  • Rep. Robert Hagan
  • Rep. Nickie Antonio
  • EcoWatch
  • WaterKeeper Alliance
  • OMB Watch
  • Marcellus Earth First
  • Marcellus Shale Protest
  • Natural Resources Defense Council

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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