New York Times Blows Lid Off State Department's Outsourcing of Keystone XL Environmental Review

tar sands protest photo

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The New York Time's Elisabeth Rosenthal and Dan Frosch today gave a lot of ink in the "Paper of Record" to the State Department's decision to hire Cardno Entrix, an environmental contractor based in Houston, to write a portion of its environmental impact statement (EIS) for the permit of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. State often hires contractors for this sort of work. The problem here is that Cardno Entrix also works for TransCanada, the Canadian company that is trying to get permission to build the 1,700 mile oil pipeline.

The department allowed TransCanada, the company seeking permission to build the 1,700-mile pipeline from the oil sands of northern Alberta to the Gulf Coast in Texas, to solicit and screen bids for the environmental study. At TransCanada's recommendation, the department hired Cardno Entrix, an environmental contractor based in Houston, even though it had previously worked on projects with TransCanada and describes the pipeline company as a "major client" in its marketing materials.

While it is common for federal agencies to farm out environmental impact studies, legal experts said they were surprised the State Department was not more circumspect about the potential for real and perceived conflicts of interest on such a large and controversial project.

John D. Echeverria, an expert on environmental law, referred to the process as "outsourcing government responsibility."

The resulting EIS gave a green light to the Keystone XL pipeline. It said it would cause minimal environmental harm even though Keystone I spilled 12 times in it first year. A similar pipeline spilled 840,000 gallons in Kalamazoo last year. And, of course, tar sands oil produces three times the amount of CO2 as more convential oil.

This is the second black eye for State in one week. Earlier FOE released emails between between Paul Elliot, a former Clinton staffer who is now a lobbyist for TransCanada, and a State representative that showed a cozy and perhaps inappropriate relationship between the two. In the emails, State is showed to be cheering on Elliot and telling him he is valuable to TransCanada because of his relationship with Clinton.

It remains to be seen if President Obama will deny the permit for the pipeline. He ran for office promising to "end the tyranny of oil" and to end the crony politics in DC. Now is his chance. You can tell him to act on Nov 6 in DC. More info here.