Oceans & Forests Blog

Keystone XL: Public interest groups call for Sec. Kerry to throw out tainted environmental study, take disciplinary action against consultants who lied about ties to TransCanada

Posted Jul. 30, 2013 / Posted by: Adam Russell

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline today asked Secretary John Kerry to throw out the State Department’s environmental review of the proposed tar sands pipeline because consultants in charge of the review lied about conflicts of interests, including working for TransCanada, the company behind the planned pipeline from Alberta to Texas. The coalition of environmental, religious and public interest groups is also calling for the State Department to ban Environmental Resources Management from future federal contracts because of their false statements about its business dealings with TransCanada and oil companies with a direct stake in whether Keystone gets built.

In a letter to Secretary Kerry, 29 groups, including The Checks & Balances Project, Friends of the Earth, League of Conservation Voters, National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club, said the State Department's Office of the Inspector General must pursue a full investigation into how ERM was hired to write the environmental impact statement for the pipeline, despite its extensive work with TransCanada and other oil companies who will benefit from Keystone XL's construction. 

"The public expects the State Department to perform a transparent and independent review of this project’s impacts on the environment and the global climate before the decision reaches President Obama’s desk," the groups said. "It is critical that the report on which the administration’s decision will rely on be free of any taint of impropriety or conflict of interest."

They presented evidence that ERM lied on its conflict of interest disclosure form when it said it had "no existing contract or working relationship with TransCanada." In fact ERM has been involved since at least 2011 in the Alaska Pipeline Project, a joint venture of TransCanada and ExxonMobil. 

ERM lied again when it certified that it did not have a "direct or indirect relationship ... with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work." In fact, ERM's own public documents show that since 2009 the London-based firm has worked for more than a dozen of the largest energy companies with stakes in the Canadian tar sands, including ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Total and Syncrude.

The groups said the State 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 environmental review was plagued by bias and conflicts of interest. Earlier this month a State Department spokeswoman admitted to Postmedia News of Canada that State did not try to verify whether ERM was telling the truth when it certified that it had no business ties to TransCanada. 

The groups urged Secretary Kerry to:

  • Fire ERM and disqualify it from future federal contracts.
  • Start the environmental review process over with a new contractor that complies with the Federal Acquisition Regulation regarding conflicts of interest.
  • Order an inspector general's investigation to determine "how a contractor with clear conflicts of interest was allowed to write the U.S. government's assessment of Keystone XL, and why the State Department has so far failed to bring those conflicts of interest to light." 

The environmental impact statement will inform President Obama's decision, expected soon, on whether to issue a construction permit for the pipeline. In his climate speech last month and in a New York Times interview this past weekend, the president said the pipeline should go forward only if it does not significantly worsen carbon pollution. The fossil fuel consultant, ERM, claimed in its draft environmental review that building the pipeline would not significantly increase carbon emissions -- contrary to the conclusions of mainstream scientists, environmental groups and the EPA. 

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The coalition of groups includes: 350.org, Bold Nebraska, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for International Environmental Law, Checks & Balances Project, Common Cause, CREDO, DeSmogBlog, DeSmog Canada, Earthworks, Energy Action Coalition, Environment America, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Friends of the Earth, The Good Life Alliance, Green for All, Greenpeace, Hip Hop Caucus, League of Conservation Voters, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, MoveOn.org Civic Action, National Nurses United, National Wildlife Federation, Nebraska Farmers Union, Oil Change International, Public Citizen, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club and The Other 98%

Contact:
Ross Hammond, Friends of the Earth, (415) 559-5082, rhammond@foe.org
Gabe Elsner, Checks & Balances Project, (202) 368-5042, gabe@checksandbalancesproject.org
Eddie Scher, Sierra Club, (415) 977-5758, eddie.scher@sierraclub.org

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