State Department’s Keystone XL Review Goes from Bad to Worse

Tar sands development in Alberta's boreal forest (photo: Kris Krug)
Tar sands development in Alberta’s boreal forest. Flickr photo by Kris Krug.
The news for the Keystone XL pipeline just keeps getting worse.  Last week, further information came out regarding an apparent cover-up of a conflict of interest that undermines the credibility of the State Department’s environmental review of the pipeline. Rather than doing the work in-house, the State Department farmed it out to a consulting firm called ERM. As part of the vetting process, firms like ERM are supposed to reveal possible conflicts of interest. ERM failed to disclose that TransCanada—which wants to build the pipeline—was a client of the firm.

In short, ERM evaluated a pipeline that a paying client wants to build and lied about it. 

In addition to being an outrage, this conflict of interest appears to explain a lot.  For instance, ERM’s curious conclusion that building this massive pipeline won’t matter when it comes to climate change—a conclusion virtually no one agrees with. Even industry and Canadian officials pushing the pipeline have said multiple times that Keystone XL is crucial to allowing tar sands development—and the massive carbon pollution that it will bring—to move forward.  No wonder the Environmental Protection Agency, which has the expertise to evaluate pollution impacts, has now rejected the State Department’s farmed-out reviews as being insufficient three times in a row. 

If the Keystone XL pipeline is constructed and tar sands development continues unchecked, some herds of Woodland Caribou could disappear in as little as 30 years. (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Woodland Caribou. (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
The Office of Inspector has announced it will look into ERM’s conflict of interest. This inquiry needs to take place. But regardless, the process is already tainted and a new, truly objective review needs to occur.  As a recent white paper by NRDC detailed, an honest look at the facts would almost certainly show that the pipeline is climate disaster, not to mention the spill risks and impacts to migratory birds, wolves, caribou and other wildlife.

Fortunately, the message that this pipeline is a bad deal is getting out. President Obama—the ultimate decision maker—is now correctly scoffing at industry falsehoods that the pipeline has anything to do with producing jobs or easing gas prices.

However, addiction produces curious behavior and it is far from certain that the right decision will be made on this boondoggle project.  Yet, one would think that a pipeline that will help cook the planet, destroy vital habitat wildlife and people rely on, place water, land, wildlife and human health at risk of toxic spills, drive up oil prices, and lock us into a future of further destructive energy choices at the expense of clean alternatives would be a pretty easy thing to say no to.

I certainly hope so, but we need to keep making the case.  The clock is ticking and our children will inherit the impacts of our folly or our wisdom.

Take Action Button

Urge President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline!