Did the Keystone XL Environmental Contractor and the State Department Act Inappropriately or Illegally?

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Several environmental advocacy groups are asking the US State Department to launch an investigation over the State Department’s handling of the Keystone XL review.

This is a bit nuanced but important, and I want to make clear what is going on here.

Normally, environmental impact assessments are done by private contractors ultimately hired by the entity that is building the project that could have the impacts. I often hear people complain that Trans Canada, the group that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline across the United States to allow the export of it’s bitumen (a kind of soft coal like oily thing) overseas to places like China and Europe, “hired the contractor” that did the environmental impact assessment, and therefore they are corrupt and evil and so on and so forth. But this is how it works. The entity doing the work is responsible to pay for and supply support for the review. There is nothing wrong with that.

Also, there is a more specific allegation that individuals who work for the contractor that did the Keystone XL Pipeline review have worked previously for Trans Canada and other oil interests and therefore the are corrupt and evil and so on and so forth. This, in itself, is also incorrect. Yes, those individuals have worked for Trans Canada and other oil interests, but this is normal, expected, and in fact, a good thing. You really don’t want to have individuals with zero experience working on these important jobs, and you really don’t want to have an industry where people get trained up, with advanced degrees and apprenticeship, to work in a given sub sector of environmental management, then allow them to have one contract then put them on an ice flow.

Having said all that, which is true and must be kept in mind when complaining about Trans Canada and Keystone XL, there is a problem. The system where corporations hire contractors to look into environmental effects is corruptible. This isn’t the most corruptible way to do this. If government agencies did the work themselves, or hired subcontractors, that would be corruptible too. There is no way to do this that is not corruptible.

For this reason, regulatory agencies are supposed to keep a close eye on what happens. There are forms that must be filled out honestly that might reveal potential conflicts of interest, for example. Once these forms are in the hands of the appropriate regulatory agencies, their veracity must be checked, and if there is any problem, that must be very closely looked into.

From the information I’ve seen, it seems almost 100% likely that the process of arranging for the second Keystone XL environmental impact assessment involved some serious mistakes, and there is almost as good of a chance that those mistakes involved purposeful manipulation of information by the environmental contractor as well as by the State Department itself.

I’m not going to try to prove this to you or even summarize the information because it is all well laid out in THIS PDF of a letter from Bold Nebraska, Center for Biological Diversity, Environment America, Friends of the Earth, League of Conservation Voters, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Nebraska Farmers’ Union, Public Citizen, Sierra Club and 350.org. It would appear that the contractor, ERM, failed to disclose its ties to the American Petroleum Institute, TransCanada and other companies that stand to benefit from Keystone. There may be nothing wrong with having those ties but they must be disclosed so they can be looked into and monitored. Also, the State Department employees attempted to cover these ties up during the review process, which implies collusion between the regulatory agency and the contractor.

Go read the letter and learn all the details.

Then, you might want to sign this petition from Friends of the Earth to “Tell Secretary of State John Kerry: Investigate Big Oil’s Influence on the Keystone XL Review.”

Private contractors hire other private contractors to do environmental review, and this process is overseen by regulatory agencies, with the State Department in this case being a regulatory agency. But who oversees that process, to makes sure it stays clean, fair, and legal? Well, you, the citizen. And who helps you do that? Organizations created by citizens, such as those noted above.

So that’s what is happening now. Time to act. Your move…..

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One thought on “Did the Keystone XL Environmental Contractor and the State Department Act Inappropriately or Illegally?

  1. Such a wonderful post. I we think about our environment we should plant more and more trees. Because trees are our best and real friends. Thank you for sharing nice article.

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