by Ceal Smith

An Attorney for the Department of Interior with heavy involvement in assessing Lexam Exploration’s drilling proposal in the Baca National Wildlife Refuge has been linked to an ongoing scandal involving the suppression of scientific information.

A report released on Dec. 15th by the Department of Interior (DOI) Office of Inspector General revealed that DOI Attorney Thomas Graf “aided and abetted” Julie MacDonald, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks who resigned in 2006 following public disclosure that she improperly affected over a dozen Endangered Species Act (ESA) decisions. In the new report, Thomas Graf, self-described as MacDonald’s “eyes and ears,” interfered on numerous occasions with high-level scientific decision-making for the Greater Sage Grouse. He was described in the study as having a “remarkable lack of recollection [that] leaves one to speculate whether he
was doing MacDonald’s bidding or was a rogue actor simply emulating her policy style.”

Documents obtained by the San Luis Valley Water Protection Coalition (WPC) and reported previously in regional and national news outlets, reveal that Graf exercised the same heavy handed “policy style” described in the Inspector General’s Report in the drilling assessment of the Canadian company, Lexam Explorations, Inc., proposal to drill for natural gas and oil in the Baca National Wildlife Refuge.

The attorney, Thomas Graf, provided oil and gas industry lawyers with internal drafts of the USFWS analysis of the impacts of drilling on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge and is opposing the Town of Crestones’ appeal of recent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oil and gas leasing decisions.

Graf’s involvement in gas and oil initiatives in the San Luis Valley now extends beyond the Baca National Wildlife Refuge. In April, the BLM leased 1,876 acres on 3 parcels near the town of Crestone despite enormous public outcry and urging from United States Senator Ken Salazar and Congressman John Salazar to defer leasing the parcels until more thorough studies on its affects could be conducted. When the Town appealed BLM’s lease sale, it received an objection to their appeal from Thomas Graf, Staff Attorney for the DOI Solicitors Office in Lakewood.

In his characteristic tone, Graf referred to the Town of Crestones’ appeal claims as NIMBY (Not In My Backyard). According to an attorney familiar with Graf, “this term is widely used as pejorative and reflects the same type of contempt for local concerns as the Inspector General Report demonstrated that these DOI officials held for scientific concerns.”

The DOI Inspector General’s Report entitled: Endangered Species Act and the Conflict between Science and Policy can be downloaded at: Key FOIA documents received from USFWS in August can be downloaded from WPC’s website at: