Oregon GOP leader lashes out at AG over transparency, jobs

Chris Rizo May 6, 2010, 6:21pm

John Kroger (D)

Bruce Hanna (R)

SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-The Republican leader in the Oregon House of Representatives on Thursday called on state's Democratic attorney general to release documents relating one of his top aides who recently resigned after admitting to wrongdoing in a criminal case.

Attorney General John Kroger's former special counsel on environmental issues, Brent Foster, stepped down after admitting to misrepresenting his involvement in a criminal water pollution case against a fruit juice maker in the small northwestern Oregon town of Hood River.

Before joining the AG's staff in December 2008, Foster was executive director of the Columbia Riverkeeper, one of the state's leading water-quality and conservation groups.

Foster, some say, crossed ethical lines -- and perhaps prosecutorial boundaries -- when he accompanied two Riverkeeper employees, including the group's executive director, to collect samples of suspected illegal waste-water discharges at Hood River Juice.

But it was Foster's dishonesty over what he did, not the underlying conduct, that cost him his $7,224 to $10,657 per-month position in the Oregon Department of Justice, after just 14 months of working there.

In a search warrant affidavit, an Oregon State Police investigator cited the results of a sample Foster reportedly collected across the street from Hood River Juice that suggested the water contained an industrial cleaning agent likely used at the plant.

The owner of the apple and pear juice company, David Ryan, at the time was the target of a second criminal pollution investigation by the county district attorney's office. Ryan was indicted last fall on felony counts of polluting public waterways and supplying false information to a regulatory agent.

In light of Foster's possible ethical breach, House Minority Leader Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, said Thursday that documents relating to his legal work and other endeavors on behalf of the state should be available for public scrutiny.

"I am particularly troubled by your office's unwillingness to disclose documents relating to interactions between your office, various state agencies and various special interest groups," Hanna wrote. "If you are a true advocate of making government records more accessible, why are you refusing to disclose 69 e-mails from an inquiring citizen?"

Kroger's unwillingness to release Foster's papers actually harms the Beaver State's economic recovery, Hanna said, explaining that the controversy surrounding Foster "reinforced Oregon's reputation as a difficult place to do business."

In his letter, Hanna also took aim at Kroger's opposition to public works projects that supporters say would help put scores of unemployed Oregonians back to work.

Among large-scale projects Kroger opposes are plans for liquefied natural gas terminals. At Columbia Riverkeeper, Foster was a vocal opponent of LNG projects, endeavors he later dealt with as a state lawyer. Hanna said there was a conflict of issue there.

"Mr. Foster's involvement in the LNG issue, as well as recent revelations regarding Hood River Juice, leads me to question your commitment to promoting a positive business climate and to defending the rights of all Oregonians," Hanna wrote.

While one of the LNG projects they opposed appears to be defeated, another is moving along.

NorthernStar Natural Gas announced Tuesday that the company has jettisoned development of Bradwood Landing, a $700 million liquefied natural gas terminal that was planned near the mouth of the Columbia River, not far from the town of Astoria.

The project gained federal approval, but faced opposition from state officials. The Houston, Texas-based company's president, Paul Soanes, said permitting delays contributed to the decision. The company this week filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.

Still in the works, much to the chagrin of Kroger, is the proposed Jordan Cove LNG facility and the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline, a 234-mile long, 36-inch wide conduit, that would transport natural gas from Oregon's northwestern coastal town of Coos Bay down to the tiny farming community of Malin, just north of the Oregon-California border.

The three companies expect the pipeline to deliver as much as 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas to the West Coast natural gas market, which is currently fed from sources in Canada, the Rocky Mountains and the San Juan Basin.

Kroger and Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in December to reconsider the controversial project's conditional license.

The Jordan Cove Energy Project LP is a partnership among the natural gas company Williams, Fort Chicago Energy Partners, based in Calgary, Canada, and PG&E Strategic Capital Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of PG&E Corp.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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