BOZEMAN, Mont. - Montana's governor on July 7 withdrew his state from participation in the command team directing cleanup of oil spilled from a ruptured Exxon Mobil pipeline, saying citizens "can't get straight answers" from the company.
In establishing the state's own incident command center in Billings, just downstream from the July 1 spill on the Yellowstone River, Gov. Brian Schweitzer cited what he characterized as a lack of public transparency by Exxon.
Schweitzer said Exxon was responsible for restricting reporters' access, and that of some state environmental officials, in violation of Montana's open-meetings law. He also said the company has been too slow in responding to citizens' queries about the spill.
"When Montana citizens call a hotline and Exxon Mobil doesn't get back to them, that's unacceptable," Schweitzer said in a phone interview.
A joint unified command organization consisting of the state, Exxon and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was set up after the spill to oversee efforts to assess damage, conduct cleanup and provide information to the public.
Exxon Mobil spokesman Alan Jeffers denied the company had sought to restrict access to unified command meetings or information, saying the EPA was in charge. He said the company was doing its utmost to answer questions from the public.