Department of Natural Resources director leaves to oversee oil spill funds

Monday, August 30, 2010 | 10:12 p.m. CDT; updated 12:21 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 31, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri official suspended last year for reporting false information was named Monday as an executive of the trust fund that will manage the funds to be paid to victims of the Gulf oil spill.

Mark Templeton, the director of the state Department of Natural Resources, is leaving the department to manage billions of dollars set aside for victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Templeton will become the executive director of the Office of Independent Trustees of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. His resignation takes effect on Wednesday.

In September 2009, Templeton was suspended by Gov. Jay Nixon for providing the governor's office with incorrect information about beach closures at the Lake of the Ozarks. Templeton told the governor that several beaches — which tests showed had unacceptably high levels of E. coli contamination — were closed for several weeks in the summer of 2009. However, the beaches had actually remained open for much of the time.

At the time, Templeton admitted to passing the incorrect information to the governor, but said his reports were based on what he had been told by his staff. Nixon placed Templeton on two weeks' unpaid leave.

Templeton's new appointment came under attack from a Republican member of the Missouri House State Parks Committee.

"I can understand why he wants to get out of Missouri, especially after that business at the Lake of the Ozarks," said Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O'Fallon. "But he's going out of the frying pan and into the fire."

In his new capacity, Templeton will help manage the massive escrow fund established by BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The trust does not actually pay out claims to the victims of the spill — that is the purview of the federally managed Gulf Coast claims facility. Instead, the trust ensures that the money remains safe, available for payout and out of the control of BP and the federal government.

Earlier this month, BP established the trust and put down an initial deposit of $3 billion; according to the trust agreement, the total will eventually reach $20 billion. The other independent trustees are Kent D. Syverud, the dean of the Washington University School of Law, and John S. Martin Jr., a former U.S. attorney and district judge.

Despite the 2009 suspension, the governor praised Templeton in a press release.

"I appreciate Mark's service and leadership of numerous projects critical to the protection of Missouri's natural resources — from our state parks and historic sites, to the safety of our wastewater treatment systems," Nixon said. "Mark's effective use of Recovery Act funds made it possible for thousands of Missouri families, farms and businesses to reduce their heating and cooling bills and conserve energy."

In the same release, Nixon announced that longtime aide Kip Stetzler will take over as the interim director of the Natural Resources Department while a nationwide search is conducted to permanently fill the position.

A spokesperson for the Natural Resources Department dismissed fears that the department could face problems during the transition.

"When McDonald's gets a new CEO, they don't stop making hamburgers," said Judd Slivka, communications director for the department. "We're all going to keep doing our jobs and protecting the water and environment of Missouri."

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