Green Party challenges State Dept. on conflict of interest in Keystone pipeline impact statement

April 2, 2013 in Ecological Wisdom & the Environment

green party earthflowerGreens note recent pipeline ruptures, including Friday’s Canadian crude-oil spill in Arkansas

WASHINGTON, DC– The Green Party of the United States has sent the U.S. State Department a strongly worded objection to TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

The letter, appended below, cites environmental concerns as well as the conflict of interest that compromises the draft environmental impact statement on which the Obama Administration may base its decision on the pipeline.

The statement, prepared by fossil fuel consultant Environmental Resources Management, was paid for by TransCanada, a probable violation of legal and ethical standards.

The letter to the State Department, which mentions a July 2011 ExxonMobil pipeline rupture that dumped 63,000 gallons of Canadian crude oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana, was sent just as news was breaking on Friday’s ExxonMobil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, after a pipeline carrying Canadian crude oil ruptured (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57577164/homes-evacuated-after-exxonmobil-oil-pipeline-spill-in-arkansas/).

The Green Party has taken a strong stand against the tar-sands oil pipelines: see “Green Party urges national protest against the proposed Keystone XL and Trailbreaker pipelines” (January 31, 2013, http://www.gp.org/press/pr-national.php?ID=583) and “Greens to participate in the Feb. 17 protest in DC against the Keystone XL Pipeline, after the Green Party endorses the event” (February 13, 2013, http://www.gp.org/press/pr-national.php?ID=588).

U.S. Department of State
Attn: Genevieve Walker, NEPA Coordinator
2201 C Street NW, Room 2726
Washington, D.C. 20520
http://www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/
keystonecomments@state.gov

Dear Ms. Walker:

The Green Party of the United States (GPUS) registers its opposition to the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) released by the U.S. State Department (DOS) for TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project on both ethical and environmental grounds.

First, GPUS understands that DOS, which was responsible for reviewing the project on behalf of the federal government and lacking the in-house expertise to do so, recruited fossil fuel consultant Environmental Resources Management (ERM) to draft the required environmental impact statement. GPUS is concerned about the conflict of interest presented by the fact that TransCanada paid ERM an undisclosed sum to produce the SEIS. While it may be commonplace for industries to pay consultants to review projects subject to U.S. government approval, the scale of this project and its potential adverse environmental impact required DOS to hire a consultant with no financial ties to the project sponsor. In other words, the consultant hired to draft the SEIS should have been paid by DOS, not TransCanada.

GPUS also deplores the fact that DOS omitted the amount TransCanada paid ERM from documents published on its website, as indicated by a Grist article published on March 6, 2013:

http://grist.org/article/state-department-keystone-xl-report-actually-written-by-transcanada-contractor/

The failure of DOS to report what TransCanada paid ERM shows more than the appearance of a conflict of interest. DOS’ deliberate withholding of information relevant to the SEIS is contrary even to the de minimis legal standards governing conflict of interest in the U.S.today and constitutes a betrayal of public trust.

Second, ERM’s conclusion that the project has no significant environmental impact, because tar sands crude will be transported one way or the other or that other alternatives may produce even more impacts, turns the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on its head. NEPA requires an assessment of the project’s benefits in light of its own costs, not just the costs of some other proposed project, such as transporting diluted bitumin (dilbit) by rail car instead of pipe.

Furthermore the costs of pipeline spills from crude oil consisting of benzene laced dilbit have already been documented. “Tar Sands Pipelines Safety Risks” issued by NRDC, NWF, Pipeline Safety Trust and the Sierra Club in February, 2011, reported that a July, 2010 pipeline rupture dumped 840,000 gallons of dilbit into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, causing 60 percent of the people in the vicinity to experience “respiratory, gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms consistent with acute exposure to benzene and other petroleum related chemicals.” The spill required “over 150,000 feet of boom, 175 heavy spill response trucks, 43 boats, and 48 oil skimmers” to clean up. The dollar cost of the cleanup has been estimated by the Canadian pipeline owner Enbridge at $550 million, and the crisis is not over. In fact on March 14, 2013 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered Enbridge to dredge the Kalamazoo River of the the gooey, toxic sludge that sunk to the bottom of the river and has yet to be removed.

It also bears mentioning that Exxon Mobil spent $135 million to clean up a July, 2011 pipeline rupture that dumped 63,000 gallons of crude oil along 70 miles of the once pristine Yellowstone River in Montana.

In light of the obvious financial conflict of interest in TransCanada’s payment of an undisclosed sum to ERM to produce an SEIS on its behalf and in light of the massive costs associated with remediation of dilbit spills, GPUS believes that the finding of no significant impact is unwarranted and urges DOS to employ a consultant directly with no ties past or present to TransCanada to produce a final SEIS for the Keystone XL Pipeline project.

Sincerely yours,

Budd Dickinson
Secretary, Green Party of the United States

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