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CONTRIBUTION · 3rd February 2014
Vancouver Observer
Climate cover up, collusion and conflict of interest alleged in Keystone XL report release

Keystone XL State Department report controversy: "The best environmental report that money could buy."

Source here

The uncanny timing and tone of the ad underscored collusion between oil interests and government. The Conservatives likely already knew what the report was going to say, as news of the State Department report's contents was circulating among Canadian officials in Ottawa and Washington before its official release.

The US State Department Inspector General is currently investigating a conflict of interest posed by a contractor – Environmental Resources Management (ERM) – who produced most of the environmental review. The firm’s second-in-command for the Keystone report, Andrew Bialakowski, worked on three projects over seven years for TransCanada. Koch Industries, ConocoPhillips and BP are among ERM's clients, and the State Department allegedly would not allow media to question a project manager for the report who left two weeks ago.

Over 20 members of the US Congress wrote a letter to President Obama, urging that “it would be unwise and premature for the State to release an EIS prepared by Environmental Resources Management while is remains under investigation for lying to federal officials about its business connections and practices”.

Meanwhile, media on both sides of the border repeated the same line as the pro-Keystone ad. "State Department gives environmental OK to Keystone," "Report opens way for approval", "Keystone XL won't worsen climate change" the headlines read. The message was that Keystone was proven not to significantly impact climate change, which Obama cited last summer as the main condition for his approval on the project.

Almost totally lost in the shuffle was the fact that the State Department report made a major departure from its usual stance by admitting that Keystone XL would in fact impact climate change. It concluded that “the total direct and indirect emissions associated with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would contribute to cumulative global GHG emissions”. It was a significant shift from its last report, which claimed that the pipeline wouldn't significantly affect greenhouse gas emissions.

The best environmental report that money can buy

“This is the best Environmental Impact Statement money can buy,” said Mike Casey, spokesperson for climate activist Tom Steyer. Steyer is the "American billionaire" who Conservatives attacked in their pro-Keystone XL ad, and is an influential figure in the US Democratic Party. Steyer had launched an aggressive ad campaign last week, saying Canada and China took Americans for "suckers" who would approve a pipeline that served to pump oil to China and provided negligible economic benefits to them.

"Harper is doing what US President Bush did 10 years ago in his rush to war. It was based on patently false information and a lie. Anyone who did not support Bush was unpatriotic," said Casey.

Casey refers to the fact that Canada's government has so far devoted millions of dollars on promoting its oil sands industry. In addition to the $40 million spent on oil and gas promotion last year, the government has just awarded Fleishman Hillard a $22 million contract for oil sands advertising. Alberta Premier Alison Redford has made five trips to Washington to lobby for Keystone XL, and took out a $30,000 full-page ad in the New York Times last year to promote Canada's oil.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to push for Obama’s approval of Keystone XL when meeting the US President personally at the North American Leaders’ Summit on February 19.

“And if Prime Minister Harper is spending Canadian taxpayer dollars to lobby the US Government, we can only assume that he likely learned of the US State Department decision in advance – and shared this information with the oil companies; or that the oil companies knew, and informed Harper ahead of time” Casey said.

“Why should Canadian taxpayer dollars be used to lobby the US Government on behalf of an industry that has enough financial resources to do so on their own?”

Steyer wrote a letter to US Secretary of State (and well-known climate hawk) John Kerry over the weekend, asking for an immediate “critical and transparent review of the EIS, and the process undertaken for its preparation”.

“The EIS is based on the flawed premise that Canadian tar sands oil will be developed no matter what — a tired talking point pushed by TransCanada and the oil industry," said Steyer. "This is no surprise given that the contractor hired to evaluate the environmental risks of the project has direct ties to TransCanada and oil lobbying groups. But the truth is that Keystone XL is key to unlocking the Canadian tar sands — and all of the carbon pollution that comes with it."

Conflict of interest in the review

Environmental Resources Management, author of the report, is also a trade member of several energy industry organizations, including the American Petroleum Institute (API). API is one of the key funders for Americans for Prosperity, a tea party libertarian organization chaired by U.S. oil tycoon David Koch.

Jack Gerard, head of the American Petroleum Institute – which is the largest US trade association for the oil and gas industry – also appears to have known about the imminent release of the EIS ahead of time, telling Reuters that he knew when the report would come out and citing sources within the US Government. API has spent over $6 million USD on all lobbying activities in 2013 and is a vocal supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Gerard also said that “we’re expecting to hear the same conclusion that we’ve heard four times before: no significant impact on the environment”. Gerard has a history of ties to the US Republicans, having worked as a political staffer in Washington, DC.

As for why reporters simply parroted the oil industry's analysis of the report the Keystone XL report, political activist Jane Fleming Kleeb said that Friday’s technical briefing to the media was to blame. The briefing, she suggested, led media to reach the hurried conclusion that the pipeline was determined not to greatly increase emissions, when the reality was more nuanced.

“In its final technical review, the U.S. State Department found the Canada-US oil pipeline would not greatly increase carbon emissions because the oil sands in Alberta will be developed anyway,” said a State Department official to reporters.

“I can only hope that the State Department clarifies this point on Monday. That is the only way to turn this narrative around. Reporters didn’t read the report and they won’t – they relied on the press briefing, which gave them the sense that ‘this is fine for the climate,’ said Kleeb.

US Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California who is Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said she reviewed the report ‘line by line’ and saw much to be concerned about.

“I will not be satisfied with any analysis that does not accurately document what is really happening on the ground when it comes to the extraction, transport, refining, and waste disposal of dirty, filthy tar sands oil,” Boxer said.