Dems seek State Dept. IG probe of Keystone pipeline review

The 14 lawmakers, led by Sen. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Cardi B posts message of support for Ilhan Omar #IStandWithIlhan trends after crowd at Trump rally chants 'send her back' MORE (I-Vt.) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), ask State Department IG Harold Geisel to review a range of issues about the controversial project, which the Obama administration plans to decide whether to permit by year’s end.

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“Given the significant economic, environmental, and public health implications of the proposed pipeline, we believe that it is critical that the State Department conduct thorough, unbiased reviews of the project,” states the letter Wednesday from lawmakers including Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Twitter says Trump 'go back' tweet didn't violate rules | Unions back protests targeting Amazon 'Prime Day' | Mnuchin voices 'serious concerns' about Facebook crypto project | Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid Top Democrat demands answers on election equipment vulnerabilities Advocates frustrated over pace of drug price reform MORE (D-Ore.), Rep. Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Sanders: 'I'm only grumpy most of the time' Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data MORE (D-Vt.), Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime Overnight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits Dem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors MORE (D-R.I.), Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Overnight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran House approves defense bill after adding liberal sweeteners MORE (D-Ore.) and eight other House Democrats.

The lawmakers are part of a wider group of Democrats who have questioned the Keystone project. In the letter, they say they are “disturbed” by use of the company Cardno Entrix to conduct the formal Environmental Impact Statement that State issued in August, noting the company’s financial ties to TransCanada.

The EIS gave the project a largely favorable review. But the lawmakers say use of the firm “creates an appearance of a conflict of interest and raises several questions.”

The letter asks the IG to probe whether TransCanada “improperly” influenced State’s selection of the EIS contractor and several related questions. The lawmakers want to know whether the State-TransCanada relationship has been too cozy.

They ask:

Were there any communications between State Department officials and TransCanada, the Canadian government, or proponents of the pipeline, which were in any way improper or which indicate any deviation from the State Department’s obligations under federal law to provide objective analysis of the project and its potential risks?

In addition, the lawmakers want review of whether the EIS properly considered if oil from the pipeline will be exported from the U.S., greenhouse gas emissions, potential spills and other issues. 

The lawmakers say the administration, in the spirit of Obama’s commitment to transparency and openness, should hold off on a final decision pending the hoped-for IG investigation.

“In keeping with that commitment, we respectfully request that your administration hold off on any final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline permit application until an independent Inspector General investigation is completed, made public and fully evaluated,” their letter to Obama Wednesday states.

Spokespersons for TransCanada and the State Department could not immediately be reached for comment.

The pipeline review is politically tricky terrain for the White House, which faces pressure from major business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who say the project would help boost the economy and enhance energy security.

The project also has support from many Republicans (although Nebraska's Republican governor is not among them) and a number of Democrats, including 22 House Democrats led by Rep. Gene GreenRaymond (Gene) Eugene GreenTexas New Members 2019 Two Democrats become first Texas Latinas to serve in Congress Latina Leaders to Watch 2018 MORE (D-Texas) who wrote to Obama urging approval of the pipeline earlier this month.

But the project faces opposition from environmentalists, who are planning another big demonstration at the White House Nov. 6. Some environmentalists are casting the decision as a referendum on Obama’s commitment to battling climate change.

Here is the 14 lawmakers’ letter to the State Department IG:

Deputy Inspector General Geisel:

We are writing to request that the Office of Inspector General at the U.S. Department of State launch an investigation into the State Department’s handling of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and National Interest Determination (NID) for TransCanada Corporation’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline.  Given the significant economic, environmental, and public health implications of the proposed pipeline, we believe that it is critical that the State Department conduct thorough, unbiased reviews of the project. Further, it is imperative that the State Department process be free of actual or apparent conflicts of interest, and that the process fully meets both the letter and spirit of all federal laws, including but not limited to the National Environmental Policy Act.

We are disturbed by reports, such as those in The New York Times on October 7, 2011, that the State Department allowed TransCanada, the pipeline developer, to screen applicants to conduct the EIS mandated by federal law. The reports also allege that TransCanada successfully recommended the State Department select Cardno Entrix to conduct the EIS, despite Cardno Entrix listing TransCanada as a “major client” and Cardno Entrix having a pre-existing financial relationship with TransCanada. On its face alone, this creates an appearance of a conflict of interest and raises several questions:

•    Did TransCanada improperly influence the State Department’s selection of a contractor for the EIS?
•    Did the State Department and all parties fully comply with the letter and spirit of all federal disclosure laws and regulations in regards to the Keystone XL pipeline project?
•    Is Cardno Entrix’s contract for the EIS and Keystone XL pipeline analysis with the State Department or with TransCanada, and has this contract been publicly disclosed?  Does Cardno Entrix have a contract or agreement with TransCanada wherein Cardno Entrix would provide services, such as spill response, for the Keystone XL pipeline if it is approved?
•    What is the nature and extent of any other contractual or financial relationship between Cardno Entrix and TransCanada?

We also ask that your inquiry examine the full scope of the State Department process related to the EIS and NID for the Keystone XL pipeline. The public has a right to answers to the following questions that have been raised about this process:

•    Did the State Department’s Final EIS fully incorporate the views and concerns of federal agencies with expertise, such as EPA, in relation to central questions of alternatives and mitigation, pipeline safety, and environmental risks from this project, including:
o    fully considering whether the oil from Keystone XL will stay in the United States or be exported,
o    evaluating a tar sands oil spill in the Kalamazoo river with a cleanup cost that has increased from $430 million in 2010 to $700 million today,
o    assessing the exacerbation of climate change due to increased greenhouse gas emissions from increased exploitation of tar sands oil?
•    Were there any communications between State Department officials and TransCanada, the Canadian government, or proponents of the pipeline, which were in any way improper or which indicate any deviation from the State Department’s obligations under federal law to provide objective analysis of the project and its potential risks?
•    Did the State Department or any of its officials or employees, past or current, improperly disclose any materials or information to TransCanada, the Canadian government, or proponents of the pipeline?
•    Have all requests for materials related to the Keystone XL pipeline under the Freedom of Information Act been timely fulfilled so that the public has access to all the necessary documents and materials related to this project?
•    Did the State Department violate its role as an unbiased oversight agency by advising TransCanada to withdraw their permit request to operate the pipeline at higher pressures with the reassurance that TransCanada could apply for the permit at a later date through a less scrutinized and less transparent process?

We believe that given the importance of this project and the controversy regarding the State Department’s process to-date, a thorough investigation covering the questions we have raised, and any other possible violations of federal law or improper conduct related to the State Department EIS and NID process for the Keystone XL pipeline, is warranted. We greatly appreciate your assistance with this important matter, and look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

And here is the letter to President Obama:

Dear President Obama:

We write to notify you that we have made a request to Deputy Inspector General Geisel at the U.S. Department of State for a full and thorough investigation of the State Department’s handling of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and National Interest Determination (NID) for TransCanada Corporation’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline. 

Many serious concerns have been raised regarding conflicts of interest in the State Department’s process for conducting its federally-mandated review of this project.  Fundamentally, on a decision of such consequence, with a project that could have a fifty-year lifespan and that presents tremendous environmental and safety risks, we believe it is critical that the American people have confidence that all the facts have been presented in an objective and unbiased manner, and that the State Department and all private parties have fully complied with the letter and spirit of all federal laws and regulations.

We agree with and applaud your commitment to transparency and to “creating an unprecedented level of openness in government.”  In keeping with that commitment, we respectfully request that your administration hold off on any final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline permit application until an independent Inspector General investigation is completed, made public and fully evaluated.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. 



Sincerely,