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California’s Head Oil Regulator Resigns Amid Latest Brown Administration Scandal

The resignations of oil industry regulators show California’s by Big Money interests.

As Governor Jerry Brown reels from a series of scandals involving the capture of the regulatory apparatus in California under his administration, Brown announced the resignation of his head oil regulator, Steven Bohlen, on November 30.

Brown also announced the appointment of Ken Harris of Davis to replace Bohlen as California Department of Conservation Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) supervisor.

Bohlen’s resignation took place after an Associated Press story revealed that Jerry Brown ordered Bohlen to survey the land on the Governor’s private ranch about the potential for oil drilling. This investigation raised questions about whether the Governor was illegally using state resources for his own personal gain.

“The AP reported earlier this month that Brown directed Bohlen in June 2014, days after appointing Bohlen to the job, to investigate and map out the oil, gas and mineral potential and history of the Brown family ranch in Northern California,” according to Ellen Knickmeyer from the Associated Press.

The Governor’s Office did not cite a reason for Bohlen’s departure, but did say Bohlen will return to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He will also continue to assist the Administration as an “unpaid science advisor” to the Division.

“Steve brought strong leadership and valuable scientific expertise to the job of improving oil and gas oversight,” said Governor Brown. “California will benefit from his continued service as an unpaid advisor to the Division, even as he returns to scientific and national security work at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.”

The Governor’s Office claimed, “Steven Bohlen was appointed supervisor in May 2014 with the assignment to conduct a full, systematic analysis of the division and a comprehensive plan for organizational change. During his tenure, the Division released a Renewal Plan for Oil and Gas Regulation, which refocuses the Division on its core values to regulate the oil and gas industry with safety and environmental health as top priorities.

“Bohlen has been on loan from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory over the past 18 months and brought considerable “technical experience” to the Division, including experience with ocean drilling, geology and academic research. In his capacity as an unpaid science advisor, Bohlen will continue to assist the Division on oil and gas issues, including the ongoing development of underground injection regulations,” the Office said.

Bohlen’s replacement, Ken Harris, 59, of Davis, has been the executive officer for the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board since 2012, according to the Governor’s Office.

He held multiple positions at the State Water Resources Control Board from 1987 to 2012 including assistant deputy director, supervising engineering geologist, assistant director and senior engineering geologist. Harris was interim assistant executive officer for the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board from 2010 to 2011 and a staff geologist at the San Lorenzo Valley Water District from 1983 to 1984.

He earned a Master of Science degree in hydrology from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $198,500. Harris is a Democrat.

The latest resignation follows a series of shake-ups at the Department of Conservation since 2011, the result of the virtual capture of the agency by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and Big Oil.

“California regulators have prioritized oil company profits and the governor’s personal requests at the expense of our air, water and health,” summed up Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement.

Court documents filed in a RICO lawsuit by Central Valley farmers against the Brown administration document the claims by anti-fracking activists that the governor is collaborating with Big Oil on the expansion of extreme oil extraction techniques in California.

In these documents, two former senior level officials in the Department of Conservation, Derek Chernow and Elena Miller, reveal that they were fired on November 3, 2011, one day after Governor Brown issued a final order to bypass provisions of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and approve permits for oilfield injection wells. Chernrow was the director of the Department and Miller was the DOGGR supervisor at the time.

The day after the farmers filed the lawsuit, Mark Nechodom, the oil industry-friendly director of the Department of Conservation, resigned.

More recently, the Governor on October 9 appointed Bill Bartling of Bakersfield, a Republican who has worked as an oil industry executive and consultant, as district deputy for the Bakersfield region.

The firings, hirings and resignations of oil and gas industry regulators over the past 4 years under the supposedly “green” Jerry Brown provide a window into the capture of the regulatory apparatus in California by Big Oil, Big Ag and other Big Money interests.

Big Oil is the largest and most powerful corporate lobby in California – and the Western States Petroleum Association is the largest most powerful corporate lobbying group. In one of the most extreme examples of the “fox guarding the hen house,” Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force that created so-called “marine protected” areas in Southern California.

As Jerry Brown continues to promote the expansion of fracking in California and hires Big Oil-friendly officials to “regulate” the oil and gas industry in California, reporters and editors from the mainstream generally provide fawning covering of the Governor’s trips to climate conferences across the globe to greenwash his tainted environmental legacy.

You can expect this mostly uncritical coverage to continue when Brown joins the world’s “climate leaders” in Paris, France later this week for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

“Our message in Paris is simple: Tackling climate change is good for the environment and good for the future,” said Governor Brown. “California has cut carbon pollution and grown its economy at the same time – and so can the rest of the world.”

In addition to promoting fracking and appointing Big Oil friendly “regulators,” Jerry Brown has overseen a number of anti-environmental policies and projects that rip away the Governor’s “green” façade.

Brown presided over record water exports out of the Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta and a record Sacramento splittail kill in 2011; has overseen the systematic draining and mismanagement of Central Valley reservoirs and Trinity Lake during a record drought; has helped bring winter-run Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species to the precipice of extinction; has backed the clearcutting of forests in the Sierra Nevada and elsewhere; and backs neo-liberal carbon trading policies that imperil the environment and Indigenous Peoples in Mexico and across the globe.

For more information on the toxic environmental legacy of “Big Oil Brown,” click here.

You can also read my online debate with Tom Hayden over whether Jerry Brown is a “climate hero” or “greenwashing villain”.

For more information on Big Oil lobbying money, click here.

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