California oil regulator who oversaw private survey of Governor's ranch resigns

Last month Ed brought you the initial news of what looked like just another case of government abuse and low level corruption when details came to light about a ranch owned by California Governor Jerry Brown. It seems that the Governor decided to have his oil and gas regulatory agency use their considerably expensive ground and satellite resources to do a survey of his property and find out if there was any good oil there to drill for. For his part, the Governor acted as if it were no big deal and claimed that the agency did things like that for people all the time. (An odd claim, since he was apparently the only private citizen in the history of the department to ever receive such personalized services.) Shortly after that a whistleblower complaint was raised, claiming that the person who brought the special services to light was facing retaliation.

I wondered at that time if the dominoes were beginning to fall on something that might eventually bring Jerry Brown down, and another card was played in that game this week. The head of the oil and gas regulatory agency which did the survey has resigned. (CBS local news)

California’s top oil regulator announced his resignation on Monday after 17 months as head of the embattled agency, including a criticized episode in which he directed state workers to investigate the oil and gas potential of Gov. Jerry Brown’s family ranch.

Steve Bohlen, the state’s oil and gas chief, is quitting to return to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory research center, according to a statement from Brown’s office.

The statement did not give a reason for Bohlen’s resignation, but it said Bohlen had been on loan from his work at the research center. Officials of his Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources did not immediately return The Associated Press’s calls seeking comment.

This is something of a twist on the old, “leaving to spend more time with his family” story which frequently crops up in such cases. Rather than retiring, he’s simply going back to Lawrence Livermore labs from whence he had been “on loan” to the state. But that’s one heck of a loan, isn’t it? He wasn’t just consulting on some specific bits of technology… he was the director of the agency. And the loan had been going on for a year and a half with no end date in sight before this little detail caught the attention of the media. It seems unlikely that Bohlen would just suddenly pack up his things and hit the road unless he smelled major trouble coming.

The amount of taxpayer money spent on conducting the survey and preparing the extensive report which was delivered to Brown is really a pittance out of a massive budget the size of California’s. But as with nearly everything in politics, it’s not the crime that gets you… it’s the cover-up. Brown has now also attracted additional scrutiny from watchdog groups because if he’s willing to tread across the lines of propriety in using government agencies for his personal benefit in one case, there’s no telling how much more of this might have been going on over his long and storied career. There just may be some additional whistleblower candidates lurking out there, perhaps having since retired from public service or moved on to the private sector, who have stories to tell. Also, a careful examination of the fine line items in the state’s budget under Brown’s tenure could turn up some fascinating details as well.

It would take a lot to bring down Jerry Brown once and for all. The guy is something of a legend in California Democrat politics and was, at one time, talked about as a candidate for national office. But it’s always the little things that seem to catch these guys in the end. One oil survey on a fine spring day could eventually prove to be his undoing.