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Records: Ohio gov aides knew of pro-drilling plan

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 18, 2014 at 4:09 pm •  Published: February 18, 2014

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

Top administration officials met with department leaders 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.

Spokesman Rob Nichols downplayed his earlier claims that the administration had no knowledge of the plan.

"I don't know what specific pieces of paper different people saw a year and a half ago, but of course the administration is going to coordinate and plan ahead on an important issue like gas production on state land," he said in an email.

The department said the plan was only discussed and never implemented.

A memo outlining the communications strategy was released Friday. It labeled the so-called eco-left, including the Sierra Club, Ohio Environmental Council and others as adversaries. Halliburton and other energy companies the department is charged with regulating were named as allies, as were national, local and state chambers of commerce.

The proposal, created by a senior department official assigned to special projects, suggested enlisting allied groups to counteract "zealous resistance by environmental activist opponents, who are skilled propagandists."

A final draft was dated Aug. 20, 2012, the same day a state email indicates that Kasich's top policy adviser, Wayne Struble, had scheduled a meeting on the matter. Asked Tuesday whether the meeting took place, Nichols said, "I think so, yes."

ProgressOhio, a liberal group that joined in the Sierra Club's release of the documents, called it a "Nixonian" government-enemies list.

Among those targeted were Democratic state Reps. Robert Hagan and Nickie Antonio, who on Tuesday called for Ohio House hearings on the matter. The pair called the strategy memo 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."

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