Last week, Utah-based NPR affiliate KCPW interviewed Jeff Hartley, an oil shale lobbyist for Red Leaf Resources. In that interview, Hartley defended the actions of county commissioners from several Utah, Colorado and Wyoming counties who took part in a closed-door meeting with Mr. Hartley and an appointee of Governor Gary Herbert, as well as other representatives from the oil shale industry, in Vernal, Utah in March of this year.

He claimed that the commissioners were acting within the law because the session was to discuss anticipated litigation. However, that reasoning has been widely debunked and criticized in the press.

Utah state law only allows for closed-door meetings if “reasonably imminent litigation” is discussed. As BYU professor, Joel Campbell wrote in an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune, “reasonably imminent litigation” means that “attorneys are close to filing litigation or standing on the courthouse steps”. The Vernal meeting took place in March, nearly six months before the deadline when the BLM is set to make its recommendations. No litigation has since been filed.

As an admission of guilt, the Uintah County commissioners agreed that they had failed to follow open meetings laws and vacated the meeting as well as rescinding a resolution which the oil shale industry helped craft.

Hartley also said that the meeting was about the “BLM’s open comment period on their new maps for oil shale development.” The only thing we know for sure is that Hartley and county commissioners who attended the meeting can’t get their facts straight.

Uintah County commissioners also claimed that the meeting was closed to discuss potential litigation. But then commissioners from Garfield County, Colorado claimed that the meeting was “informational”. While a third commissioner from Mesa County, Colorado described it more as a political strategy meeting (Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, May 8, pay-walled).

Taking a step back, Mr. Hartley’s defense of the actions of the county commissioners raises serious questions about the relationship companies like Red Leaf have with our elected officials. Red Leaf has spent tens of thousands of dollars on campaign donations to Utah public officials at the state and federal level. Also, Red Leaf was a former client of U.S. Senator Mike Lee, who has written letters on their behalf to the State of Utah since taking office.

And one last question: why was Jeff Hartley at the meeting and what did he hope to get out of it for Red Leaf?