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Keystone XL: Groups seek answers in State Dept. Keystone XL conflict of interest investigation

Posted Oct. 30, 2013 / Posted by: Kate Colwell

Is State looking at firm’s lies on ties to TransCanada & Big Oil?

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Pressing for answers to the conflict of interest scandal tainting a key review of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, environmental and public interest groups are seeking a meeting with the State Department's inspector general to discuss his ongoing investigation of a key consultant's ties to pipeline builder TransCanada and the oil and gas industry.

Twenty two groups wrote today to Inspector General Steve Linick to demand that his investigation examine not only whether the consultant, Environmental Resources Management, lied when it said it had not worked with TransCanada and major oil companies, but also whether the State Department made any effort to confirm ERM's claims or instead accepted them at face value.

"The evidence clearly shows that ERM lied on its conflict of interest forms," said Ross Hammond, senior campaigner for Friends of the Earth. "We also must get to the bottom of how the State Department accepted ERM's lies and then tried to cover up the truth."

Friends of the Earth reported in July that ERM's publicly available documents show that between 2009 and 2012 the London-based firm worked with TransCanada on the Alaska pipeline project, and for over a dozen of the largest energy companies involved in the Canadian tar sands. Those revelations sparked the inspector general's investigation, expected to be completed by February.

Last week it was reported that State Department documents released to the Sierra Club in response to a Freedom of Information Act request showed that the Department violated its own conflict of interest screening guidelines, issued by the inspector general last year after members of Congress complained that the previous Keystone XL environmental review was plagued by bias and conflicts of interest.

“The president set a climate test for the Keystone XL pipeline, but the other climate test is whether the State Department will finalize their environmental review based on the biased and incomplete work of a tainted oil industry consultant,” says Michael Marx, Sierra Club beyond oil campaign director.

In the letter to Linick, the groups said:

In light of your office’s previous investigation into the State Department's evaluation of Keystone XL, it is doubly important that the State Department’s process be completely transparent and that all potential conflicts be disclosed and screened. Only then can the public be assured that the full array of environmental and economic impacts of Keystone XL have been evaluated free of any bias. The integrity of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the pipeline is a threshold matter that must be resolved before a final environmental review can be issued.

The environmental review is a crucial document that could determine whether President Obama approves the pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Canada's tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.  According to the letter, after accepting ERM's proposal to conduct the review, "State Department employees redacted a significant amount of information about the background of ERM staff and consultants that showed their previous work for TransCanada and other companies that would benefit from approval of Keystone XL."

"There is no way President Obama should rely on ERM's review as a basis for his decision on the pipeline," said Hammond. "Secretary of State John Kerry should fire ERM and throw out their biased review. Then he and the president should look at the facts and deny this Keystone XL nightmare."

The revelations of the State Department's complicity in TransCanada's lies are not likely to be the last. In response to a Freedom of Information Act suit by Friends of the Earth, last week the State Department agreed to release more documents on pro-pipeline lobbying by the Canadian government and by former aides and colleagues of President Obama.

The groups involved are: 350.org, Bold Nebraska, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for International Environmental Law, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Common Cause, Common Cause Nebraska, Dakota Rural Action, DeSmogBlog, Earthworks, Energy Action Coalition, Energy & Policy Institute, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace USA, International Forum on Globalization, Labor Network for Sustainability, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oil Change International, Public Citizen, Rainforest Action Network and Sierra Club.

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Contact:
Ross Hammond, Friends of the Earth, (415) 559-5082, rhammond@foe.org
Eddie Scher, Sierra Club, (415) 815-7027, eddie.scher@sierraclub.org

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