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Exxon Mobil, Montana split

Sat., July 9, 2011

BILLINGS – Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer has decided Exxon Mobil and the state don’t make good roommates after nearly a week of working together in close quarters to clean up an estimated 42,000 gallons of crude oil released into the Yellowstone River.

State officials have moved out of a joint command post overseeing the response to the spill – a mess that has painted a fresh target for scorn on one of the world’s largest energy companies.

Security guards working for Exxon Mobil Corp. have closely guarded access to the command post on the second floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Billings, where the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies also are stationed. Attempts by the Associated Press to talk to government officials there in the first days after the spill were denied.

Schweitzer said the company and the EPA have defied state open government laws by denying public access. On Friday, he opened an alternate state-run Yellowstone River Oil Spill Information Center, underscoring mounting tensions over the pipeline rupture that has dirtied parts of the scenic waterway.

“Montana has a much higher standard than Exxon Mobil when it comes to transparency,” Schweitzer said. “We won’t be involved in secret meetings and secret documents.”

Keenly aware of the company’s public image, Exxon Mobil executives have repeatedly apologized for the spill and have pledged to spend whatever it takes to restore the river.

EPA spokesman Matthew Allen said the agency has been pleased with Exxon Mobil’s efforts to date. The company has accepted fault for the spill and has heeded the agency’s orders on the cleanup, Allen said.

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