State Department to use flawed, conflicts-ridden impacts study in new review of Keystone XL

State Department to use flawed, conflicts-ridden impacts study in new review of Keystone XL

State Department to use flawed, conflicts-ridden impacts study in new review of Keystone XL

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You’d think the State Department would’ve learned its lesson from the first round of review of the controversial Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, wouldn’t you?

Especially after it took 1,253 people risking arrest on President Obama’s doorstep (including Friends of the Earth staff and activists), dogged and escalated action targeting the administration, and a New York Times front page exposé on conflicts of interest in the department’s review of the pipeline, among other things, to finally compel President Obama’s rejection of round one of this dirty and dangerous project.

Apparently, it hasn’t learned its lesson. Last Friday, the State Department announced that it was officially beginning the new round of review for TransCanada’s re-application of the permit for the Keystone XL northern segment and that it would use the flawed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) issued in August 2011 in this new round of review, proving yet again that business-as-usual has won the day at the agency.

In its announcement that it would conduct a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) instead of a new, fresh EIS on the Keystone XL northern segment, stretching from the home of the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska, the State Department is glazing over the fact that the environmental review for the last permit application was inadequate in its scope and substance and troubling in its contractor vetting process.

The State Department’s August 2011 EIS determined that Keystone XL would have limited impact, essentially giving the project a green light, yet failed to acknowledge the true extent of the pipeline’s threats to the climate, to drinking water, and to the health of people who would breathe polluted air from refineries on the Gulf Coast processing the dirty tar sands oil. But then again, it’s easy to find that Keystone XL would have “no significant impact” if you do no significant study. The State Department had issued two previous draft environmental reviews before its “final” EIS in August 2011, which the Environmental Protection Agency categorized respectively as “inadequate” and “insufficient.”

The State Department’s incomplete analysis of Keystone XL’s climate impacts is especially alarming. Since August 2011, a new study released in March 2012 by scientists at the University of Alberta posits that tar sands’ climate-destabilizing pollution levels could be higher than previously thought, with carbon emissions resulting from tar sands extraction possibly three times higher than previously estimated. And according to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, building Keystone XL would be the equivalent of adding at least 4 million new cars to the road. 

What’s more, the State Department’s handling of the first round of review for the pipeline was rife with bias, lobbyist influence, and conflicts of interest, all adding to a wholly flawed and insufficient EIS. At the core of the scandal was the contractor Cardno Entrix, allowed by the State Department to drive the review process for Keystone XL while the firm simultaneously touted TransCanada as a “major client” in its promotional materials. A report by the State Department’s Inspector General has since confirmed that the department failed to follow its own flawed contractor vetting processes and raises fresh concerns about the department’s downplaying of the pipeline’s likely impacts in its review.

Add that to mounting evidence of foul play at the State Department uncovered by Friends of the Earth, including emails between State Department staff and TransCanada lobbyist Paul Elliott, previously a top Hillary Clinton campaign aide, that indicate bias and complicity at the State Department; a web of lobbyists and State Department employees cozy with the oil industry; and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement in 2010 that she was “inclined” to approve the pipeline even though the State Department’s review was not yet complete.

As an environmental crime in progress, there are many reasons to outright reject Keystone XL. But as it begins this new round of review, it seems like the State Department is trying to cheat on a test with the wrong answers by using the old, flawed environmental impact study to hasten the new review process. At the least, the State Department must ensure a rigorous, transparent process by not relying on its previously issued EIS, instead conducting fresh analysis of the pipeline’s likely impacts, and dropping Cardno Entrix as the contractor. It’s time to go back to the drawing board.

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