While conflicts-ridden Cardno Entrix is out, agency still refuses to ditch the flawed review it produced
WASHINGTON, D.C. –(ENEWSPF)–August 16, 2012. The State Department recently announced on its website that it has chosen a new third-party contractor to conduct the next round of review for TransCanada’s controversial re-application to build the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska.
The new contractor, Environmental Resources Management, replaces Cardno Entrix, a firm that was at the center of the scandal* surrounding the State Department’s flawed Keystone XL review process last fall. However, while the department has hired a new contractor, it has also signaled that it will lean heavily on the flawed environmental impact statement largely prepared by Cardno Entrix, a study that independent experts concluded grossly downplayed the harm the pipeline is likely to cause.
“With the next round of review for Keystone XL, President Obama has the opportunity to prove that business-as-usual has not completely won the day at his State Department. We’ll be watching the administration and ERM’s every move to ensure that the bias, lobbyist influence and conflicts of interest that marred the State Department’s previous impacts study don’t contaminate this new round of review,” said Kim Huynh, tar sands campaigner at Friends of the Earth.
As communities across the country face an onslaught of extreme weather, the Obama administration faces a key test: whether its new round of review fully considers the impacts of increased tar sands development on the climate.
“Amidst a summer of unprecedented wildfires, droughts and storms, President Obama risks solidifying a legacy as a climate laggard if he doesn’t ensure the climate impacts of dirty tar sands oil are taken into account. If the administration conducts a science-based, rigorous analysis of the threat of pumping out more climate-destroying tar sands oil, it’ll have no choice but to reject the pipeline,” said Huynh.
The State Department closed the public comment period for the scope of the new environmental review for the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline on July 30. More than 400,000 submitted comments to the agency in staunch opposition to the project.
On its Keystone XL project site, the State Department commits to posting “a copy of the contract and organizational conflicts of interest disclosures” with ERM. Friends of the Earth called on the State Department to do so immediately so that the public can assess the department’s vetting of ERM before it begins any work on the updated Keystone XL impacts study.
* A New York Times exposé revealed last November that the State Department had “flouted the intent of a federal law” by hiring Cardno Entrix and allowing it to drive the environmental review process while it simultaneously touted TransCanada as a “major client.” An investigation by the State Department inspector general subsequently confirmed that the department had failed to follow its own flawed contractor vetting processes. The investigation also raised fresh concerns about the department’s insufficient scientific expertise to review the pipeline’s likely impacts, adding weight to independent experts’ conclusions that the impacts study was grossly inadequate. The State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement issued in August 2011 was widely criticized for failing to catalogue the tar sands oil pipeline’s full threats to the climate, drinking water and public health, as well as the unique and heightened spill risks of piping tar sands oil across America’s heartland.