Kasich aides said to mull targeting drilling foes

JULIE CARR SMYTH AP Statehouse Correspondent Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Top advisers to Republican Gov. John Kasich knew the Ohio Department of Natural Resources planned to target environmental groups and two lawmakers while promoting drilling in state parks and forests in 2012, new records show.

Top administration officials met with the department 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.

The state says the plan was only discussed and never implemented.

A memo released Friday outlined the plan, an effort to promote hydraulic fracturing in parks and state forests that labeled the so-called eco-left as adversaries. Halliburton and other energy companies the department is charged with regulating were labeled as allies, as were national, local and state chambers of commerce.

The Natural Resources Department's draft communications plan on park drilling was dated Aug. 20, 2012, the same day of a meeting that Kasich policy adviser Wayne Struble scheduled to discuss it, an email released by the groups indicated.

Asked Tuesday whether the meeting took place, Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said, "I think so, yes."

A liberal group that joined the Sierra Club and others in obtaining the memo through a records request called it a "Nixonian" government-enemies list.

A senior adviser at the Natural Resources Department, Mark Anthony, created the communications plan. The "problem to solve," Anthony's proposal indicated, was that legalization of drilling in state parks and forests would be met with "zealous resistance by environmental activist opponents, who are skilled propagandists."

The memo stated that Ohio families would be vulnerable "to messaging by opponents that the initiative represents dangerous and radical state policy by Gov. Kasich." The department anticipated environmental groups would attempt to slant news coverage, incite public panic over health risks and physically halt drilling.

Government and civic groups and the news media were labeled neutral.

On the proponent side, the plan labeled Halliburton, various chambers of commerce and the Ohio Oil and Gas Association as "allied" groups. It suggested seeking their involvement to minimize the impact of environmentalists and Democratic state lawmakers Robert Hagan and Nickie Antonio, among the most vocal legislative critics of the drilling technique nicknamed fracking. The pair called Tuesday for House hearings on the plan, whose adversarial tone they called improper and unprecedented.

"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," said Hagan, of Youngstown. "This document raises a lot of questions regarding taxpayer resources being used to play politics, and taxpayers deserve answers."

The state noted in the memo that a plan that allied them with the industry "could blur public perception of ODNR's regulatory role in oil and gas."

The department has declined to say whether anyone ordered Anthony to write the proposal, how much it cost, or whether any outside organization was involved. Natural Resources spokesman Mark Bruce said Friday that 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 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.

A 2011 law opened up state parks and other lands in Ohio to oil and gas drilling, but the practice never proceeded.

Nichols said the law called for a state oil and gas commission to be created to set associated rules and Kasich has opted not to appoint the panel yet because the governor doesn't believe the regulatory structure around the practice is mature enough.