Group demands resignation from regulator

Energy agency director asked to exit early

DENVER — Environmentalists, led by a Durango group, are calling for the immediate resignation of the state’s top oil and gas regulator.

David Neslin, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, announced Feb. 1 that he is stepping down at the end of this month to be a partner at Davis, Graham & Stubbs, a law firm with clients in the energy industry.

But the San Juan Citizens Alliance and 17 other groups asked him to step down immediately in a Thursday letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“You can’t just go right from being a regulator into working for the people you regulate. There’s got to be a time-out period,” said the SJCA’s Josh Joswick, who sent the letter to Hickenlooper.

Hickenlooper’s spokesman, Eric Brown, said such a period already exists.

State rules require that former state employees wait six months before they contact a state agency about matters they worked on during their government employment.

“Dave Neslin has committed that he will not represent a client on any matters that the client had before the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission while Dave was employed there,” Brown said.

But the environmental groups noted a pattern at the COGCC. The previous director, chief engineer and assistant attorney general for the agency all took jobs in the gas industry in recent years.

“There is a problem with the COGCC being a revolving-door agency,” Joswick wrote in the letter.

Department of Natural Resources Director Mike King, whose agency includes the COGCC, said Neslin offered to step down immediately when he took the job at Davis, Graham & Stubbs, but King asked him to stay to help with the transition to a new leader.

“I felt this was critical, as Dave has shown exemplary leadership on so many highly important issues at the agency, including many of great significance to the environmental community,” King said in an emailed statement.

“In addition to ensuring that any potential gaps in regulatory controls were minimized, we needed his help ensuring these projects and initiatives were carefully handed off so that we can continue to see these matters through,” King said.

Neslin has led the agency through a period of radical change starting with the administration of former Gov. Bill Ritter.

He helped craft a top-to-bottom rewrite of the agency’s rules to pay more attention to the environment and public health, and this winter, he helped broker a compromise rule for the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluids that has won praise from the industry and environmentalists.

Joswick said Neslin has been “pretty much a straight-shooter.”

But Neslin should not continue serving as a regulator over companies he might soon represent, Joswick wrote.

The letter was co-signed by the Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, WildEarth Guardians, Western Colorado Congress, the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council and some new Denver-area groups concerned about fracking along the suburban Front Range.

Davis, Graham & Stubbs is a major Denver law firm. In a news release, managing partner Chris Richardson said he was “delighted” by Neslin’s hiring.

“Dave’s expertise and history with the COGCC will be a tremendous asset to our energy clients, who are committed to developing their projects in a responsible manner,” Richardson said.

Neslin did not return a message left at his office phone Thursday afternoon.