Brent Foster, formerly the director of Columbia Riverkeeper, has resigned as Oregon attorney general's special counsel for environmental issues.
Attorney General John Kroger said in a statement that Foster resigned Tuesday after disclosing that he had misrepresented his involvement in the investigation of a criminal water pollution case against a fruit juice manufacturer in Hood River.
Kroger said it is crucial for all members of the Department of Justice to maintain the highest professional standards, and referred the case to the Marion County district attorney.
Before joining Kroger's office in 2008,?Foster rallied and organized the anti-LNG camp in?Astoria as the director of Columbia Riverkeeper and attended most public hearings on the Oregon LNG and Bradwood Landing liquefied natural gas projects.
Foster, an attorney, confirmed his resignation Tuesday evening, but told the Associated Press he couldn't comment further.
"I look forward to discussing the details of this," Foster said, "but I can't respond to a 4 p.m. press release."
Kroger spokesman Tony Green refused to elaborate on the circumstances of Foster's resignation.
Kroger's hiring of Foster sent a signal that he meant to fulfill a campaign promise of aggressively pursuing polluters. It also highlighted his anti-LNG stance. During his campaign, Kroger vowed to step up prosecution of polluters, and subsequently set up an environmental crimes unit to help local district attorneys with often-complicated pollution cases.
The resignation came over Foster's involvement in a second criminal pollution case brought by the Hood River County district attorney's office against David B. Ryan, the owner of Hood River Juice. The Department of Justice is helping with the two ongoing cases at the request of the DA's office.
On Oct. 9, 2009, Foster accompanied Brett VandenHeuvel and Rachael Pecore of Columbia Riverkeeper to collect a sample of what they believed to be illegal wastewater discharges from Hood River Juice, court documents show.
The sample that Foster helped collect in a puddle across the street from the plant showed an extraordinarily high pH level in the water, a sign that it might contain chlorine cleaning solution.
An Oregon State Police investigator singled out that result in a search warrant affidavit filed later in October that helped establish the second case against Ryan, the juice company owner. Ryan is accused of allowing the waste to run through a pipe in violation of his Department of Environmental Quality permit.
VandenHeuvel, Columbia Riverkeeper's executive director, said Tuesday that Hood River prosecutor Kate Stebbins asked the group to collect the sample. Riverkeeper, like other environmental watchdog groups, routinely collects samples of wastewater and stormwater and pursues civil cases against polluters who violate state standards.
Foster talked with Stebbins by telephone from the site, VandenHeuvel said. He added that he assumed Foster accompanied them because of the DOJ's involvement with the long-running case against Hood River Juice.
"It seemed that the key people were involved and knew and everything was fine," VandenHeuvel said. "I assumed that (Foster) was there on official business because the state was interested in prosecuting this, and that the AG's office knew their staff was at the scene."
Pecore, who has left Columbia Riverkeeper but was the group's water quality coordinator at the time, talked with an attorney general investigator earlier this month, according to court documents.
She said she felt "sneaky" because the group waited until nighttime to do the testing. She also said she was concerned about the lack of quality control over the sample, including problems with calibration of test equipment and the security of the samples, but did not mention that Foster was there.
In a follow-up interview on April 10, Pecore acknowledged when asked that Foster was present.
"She told me that she did not know in our earlier conversation if she should tell me that Mr. Foster was there, so she did not," Karen Moynahan, a senior assistant attorney general, wrote in an April 12 memo. "She told me that she did not want to get Mr. Foster in trouble."
Also on April 12, Pecore sent an e-mail to Moynahan and Stebbins, saying that she could not "testify in good conscience," adding that there were "too many weaknesses" in the procedures used with the samples to defend them in court. Neither Pecore nor Stebbins could be reached for comment Tuesday night.
David Angeli, attorney for the apple juice company owner, said without more details he can't say there was anything illegal about Foster being on the scene. But the extraordinarily high test result, which qualified the water as hazardous waste, and delays in getting documents related to the test makes him suspicious. "Why is Brent Foster going along for a ride with Columbia Riverkeeper, whose stated mission is to go after people like my client?" he said. "The whole thing to me doesn't feel right."