Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles is in a pickle.
Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency effectively delayed the drilling of 39,000 coalbed-methane
wells in Wyoming's Powder River Basin - a major energy project
Griles and the Bush administration had hoped to expedite (HCN,
11/5/01: Wyoming's powder keg ). The EPA rated Interior's
environmental impact statement draft "environmentally
unsatisfactory" (the worst possible rating), thereby requiring
either a major rewrite, or a new document - either of which could
delay drilling until 2004, well past Interior's goal of this
September. In response, Griles sent the EPA a memo, urging the
agency not to hamper methane development.
environmental groups are pointing fingers at Griles, and shouting,
"Conflict of interest!" They claim he violated ethics rules by
breaking a contract he signed in August, in which he agreed not to
participate in official matters that could financially affect
personal matters. Griles, a former oil and gas lobbyist, has
represented energy industry big-wigs such as Arch Coal, Chevron,
Occidental Petroleum, and Western Gas Resources, several of which
have a major stake in the Powder River project, and are clients of
a company formerly owned by Griles.
from the coal industry - he's worked for coal companies," says
Kristin Sykes of Friends of the Earth. "He's got a personal
interest in this."
Interior's lawyers say Griles
did not violate his ethical contract, but have had him sign another
- to "reemphasize" the first. Friends of the Earth plans to file a
formal complaint with the Inspector General's