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Pre-arrangement

May 25, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

It's worth asking why the EPA tipped off the state to its Pavillion fracking findings ahead of time

Wyoming residents got a glimpse of some behind-the-scenes communication between government entities when it was revealed recently that Gov. Matt Mead's administration persuaded the Environmental Protection Agency to delay announcing preliminary EPA findings about the possible effects of hydraulic fracturing in the Pavilion area during exploration for natural gas, then used the extra time to organize a withering state assault on the agency, its methodology, its findings and, to an extent, its personnel.

To some, the news was infuriating. To others, it was a sign of prudent discussions between affected agencies. And others shrugged at what they viewed as proof of the perception that backstage dealmaking is par for the governmental course.

This is hardly the Watergate-esque scandal that some watchdog group in the state has tried, a bit half-heartedly, to pretend it is, but it does raise some concerns for the public, especially in Fremont County, where the fracking issue is unfolding most conspicuously.

Did Wyoming represent its true intentions when it pressured the EPA to tip off Cheyenne to the findings ahead of time? If "planning a proper response" was the stated purpose, then the EPA might feel a bit snookered after the carpet-bombing from Cheyenne -- which clearly has had some effect in slowing any EPA conclusions about Pavillion fracking.

Similarly, there would seem to be some question about the wisdom of EPA's willingness to tip Wyoming to the test results in advance. Is that standard practice? Why? Presumably the leak was for some reason other than to give Wyoming time to load the cannons for its attack on the agency. If it wasn't, then the EPA's people must be suckers for punishment.

This story came to pass through the examination of thousands of e-mails. A tip of the pressman's cap to the Wyoming office of the Associated Press, which unearthed it, and to the Wyoming Legislature, which saw to it that e-mails among public officials must be open to public scrutiny.

Whatever the reasons for it, Wyoming citizens would benefit from an explanation from the governor's office, the EPA, or both as to ask why the pre-arrangement was agreed to in the first place.

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