On Thursday Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, requested an investigation into a possible ethics violation by Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth.
The violation concerns Pearce not disclosing his potential personal interest in oil and natural gas drilling legislation in the form of oil and gas leases he controls in Washington County.
On Friday, Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, released a statement saying he had formed an ethics committee to look into the allegations. The Senate panel will consist of six members, three Republicans and three Democrats. The Republicans are Dean Mortimer, Idaho Falls; Bert Brackett, Rogerson; and Jim Hammond, Coeur d’Alene. Democrats will consist of Elliot Werk, Boise; Diane Bilyeu, Pocatello; and Dan Schmidt, Moscow. Mortimer will chair the committee.
Sen. Malepeai has also requested that Pearce not be able to vote on any legislation concerning the oil and gas industry, and that he be removed from the committee of which he is chairman.
Pearce voted 21 times before disclosing he had leased oil and gas rights on his property. Senate Democrats contend what makes the potential conflict of interest even more compelling is the fact that Pearce is chairman of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee, the committee in which the legislation passed through and heard hours of testimony on.
Pearce has said that the leases were from the 1980s and the potential conflict of interest had not occurred to him. He said the allegations are politically motivated. “As a landowner, the only measure where I could have a conflict was House Bill 464, and on that bill, I made the proper declaration. In short, I met the spirit and letter of Senate rules. I look forward to clearing my name and receiving an apology from those who made these baseless allegations.”
HB 464 would prohibit cities and counties from passing ordinances that would “actually or operationally” prohibit construction or operation of natural gas companies and facilities. The companies would still be subject to zoning regulations and permitting requirements, though use of a conditional use permit by the city or county would not be permitted under the legislation.
However, a copy of a lease obtained by the executive director of Idaho Concerned Area Residents for the Environment, Alma Hasse, shows Pearce leased some of his land in November to Snake River Oil and Gas, according to the Idaho Statesman. Haase is opposing Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midavle, in the November general election.
The ethics committee will meet Monday morning at 8.