For Immediate Release, February 17, 2014

Contact: Brian Rothenberg, ProgressOhio, 614-207-3237
Eddie Scher, Sierra Club, 415-815-7027
 

Chris Christie All Over Again?

Kasich Administration Caught Up in Fracking Conspiracy Cover-up

Columbus, OH – In an attempt to bury a story about a planned administration spanning conspiracy to promote fracking in public parks, a secret communications plan was leaked by Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s administration to reporters late Friday afternoon.

The 2012 document [PDF] contains a Nixon-style enemies list. It includes detailed plans for various agencies spanning Kasich’s administration to “marginalize” opponents by teaming up with “allied” corporations, including Halliburton, business groups and media outlets.

Now more records have been released and they show Kasich may very well be caught up in a cover-up.

The Columbus Dispatch was told by Kasich’s spokesman that “the governor’s office had never seen the plan.” However, an additional document released today casts very serious doubts about this claim.

Wayne Struble, Kasich’s Director of Policy, sent out an invitation to eight of Kasich’s most senior staffers to a meeting on “State-Land Leasing – Strategy and Communications” on 8/20/12. This is nearly identical to the title of the original memo: “Oil & Gas State Lands Leasing: Draft Outline for Communication Plan (8/20/12)”. The only other invited guests were top officials from the agency responsible for the memo, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

Among the Kasich staff invited were:

  • Kasich Communication Director Scott Milburn
  • Chief of Staff Beth Hansen
  • Senior Advisor Jai Chabria
  • Former Director of Legislative Affairs Matt Carle (now Kasich’s campaign manager)
  • Former policy advisor Craig Butler (now Kasich’s Ohio EPA Director)

The meeting request was received in the same Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) public records request by the Sierra Club as the original memo.

John Kasich is a bully. He’s looking more like Ohio’s answer to Chris Christie,” said ProgressOhio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg. “First came the plans to make life tough for those that disagree with him and now the endless staff cover-ups.”

More About The Original Fracking Conspiracy Memo

The communication plan states that efforts to frack in Ohio’s state parks “will be met with zealous resistance by environmental activist opponents, who are skilled propagandists.” It sets out a comprehensive strategy to “marginalize” those on a lengthy fracking P.R. hit list, including the Sierra Club, Ohio Environmental Council, OMBWatch.org and state legislators. The document then lists “current and potential” allies in this effort, including the Governor’s Office, JobsOhio, Ohio EPA, Ohio Department of Health, Halliburton, Chamber of Commerce, Youngstown Vindicator, and several other news outlets.

A PDF copy of the communications document is available online here.

Labeled “Draft Outline for Communication Plan (8/20/12)”, it was buried among a sea of records given to the Sierra Club by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in response to a public information request.

The stated intent of the plan is to “build understanding, foster support, counter opponents’ criticism and minimize public concerns about the initiative (to drill on public lands.)” (The legislature passed HB133 which allows for such drilling in June 2011.)

The plan claims neutral parties, such as “ordinary citizens concerned about their families’ health”, will be “vulnerable to messaging by opponents that the initiative represents dangerous and radical state policy by Gov. Kasich.” It claims opponents will be emotional and aggressive; legally and physically halt drilling; create public panic about perceived health risks; slant news coverage against us (Kasich Administration); and blue the public perception of ODNRs regulatory role.”

“What is outrageous is that the document both recognizes the regulatory role of ODNR and then goes on to list the very organizations it regulates as allies in their propaganda campaign to drill in state parks,” said Brian Rothenberg, Executive Director of ProgressOhio. “It is bad enough that corporations influence policy through ALEC and Citizens United, but these are full-stop Nixonian tactics.”

In a later section the plan says one of its three objectives is to “marginalize the effectiveness of communications by adversaries about the initiative.”

“This is an unprecedented collusion between oil and gas companies and the agencies that regulate them. This isn’t just bad news for our parks and forests, its bad news for our democracy,” Brian Kunkemoeller, Sierra Club Ohio Chapter Conservation Program Coordinator.

Astonishingly, the document contains a Nixonian-type hit list of opponents, said Rothenberg. Listed as ODNR adversaries are:

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

Among the non-governmental allies listed are:

  • the Natural Resources Advisory Board
  • Chambers of Commerce including the state, Canton, Cambridge and U.S Chamber
  • Ohio Oil and Gas Association
  • Halliburton
  • America’s Natural Gas Alliance/Regina Hopper
  • Frac Focus

It is simply astonishing that the agency tasked with protecting the environment would see Halliburton as a friend and the Sierra Club as an enemy,” said Deb Nardone, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Natural Gas Campaign. “It’s shocking to see an orchestrated P.R. hit job in black and white.”

Katherine McFate, President and CEO of the Center for Effective Government, which operates OMB Watch, one of the groups targeted in the plan, stated, “There are valid concerns about fracking, which the plan seems to disregard. A recent Associated Press investigation found documented cases of water contamination from fracking in Ohio, and other studies have shown a link between earthquakes and the drilling practice, including one in Youngstown in late 2011. The Ohio DNR should be spending its time and resources wisely, protecting citizens from real harm rather than denying known risks.”