After it was revealed that top advisers to Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) were aware of a plan crafted by the state’s Department of Natural Resources to discredit the “eco-left” over fracking in state parks, Kasich reversed course on the issue Wednesday.
“At this point, the governor doesn’t support fracking in state parks,” Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols told The Columbus Dispatch. “We reserve the right to revisit that, but it’s not what he wants to do right now, and that’s been his position for the past year and a half.”
As the Dispatch notes, the reversal comes on the same day that Democrats called for an investigation into a leaked 2012 memo outlining a plan to sway public opinion on opening up public lands for oil and gas drilling.
The memo identifies groups like the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Ohio Environmental Council as the opposition, and warns that an “initiative to proactively open state park and forest land to horizontal drilling/fracturing will be met with zealous resistance by environmental activist opponents, who are skilled propagandists” (emphasis theirs).
The PR plan also cautioned “that anti-fracking activists would ‘attempt to create public panic’ about the health risks of fracking and drilling, which would require more sustained messaging from the DNR,” ThinkProgress reported Tuesday.
The plan was crafted after Kasich signed a 2011 law that would open up state parks and other public lands to drilling and fracking. It was extremely unpopular, with 70 percent of Ohioans opposed to the plan.
The governor’s office initially denied knowledge of the pro-fracking marketing plan but a 2012 email from Kasich’s top officials, requesting a meeting about the plan, disputed that assertion.
Ohio House minority leader Tracy Maxwell Heard (D-Columbus) said, “It is unconscionable that Gov. Kasich’s office lied about their involvement in the whole politically motivated scheme to target and discredit those who care about public health, safety and jobs.”
The governor’s spokesperson told the Dispatch that “the dust-up over the previously undisclosed 10-page memo from August 2012 had nothing to do with Kasich’s stance.”
Kasich has long been criticized by environmentalists for his close ties to the oil and gas industry. When the initial bill was signed to open up state parks and other public lands to drilling, Kasich was pushing fracking as a major job creator. At the time, he had also received $213,519 in contributions from the oil and gas industry, “the most of any Ohio politician,” according to a report by Common Cause Ohio. The organization updated the numbers last year and found that Kasich received an additional $101,065 from July 2011 to June 2013, the third most of any politician in the state.
The governor has been fully supportive of drilling in state parks in the past, saying, “Ohio is not going to walk away from a potential industry.”