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Friday, August 2, 2013

54 Arrested Protesting KXL's Study's Conflict of Interest

State Department hired a firm that lied on its conflict of interests form
by Nick "Taco" Stracco

The State Department is in its final steps of assessing the environmental impact of the proposed 36-inch wide, 1,179-mile long Keystone XL pipeline. The project would bring tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico for sale abroad. The pipeline has been wrought with controversy from the start, but new developments have turned up the heated debate. Amid criticism from the EPA, claims of merely 35 permanent jobs, a likely increase in energy prices in America, TransCanada's history of tar sand spills, and anomalies in the existing southern section of the pipeline, opponents of Keystone XL can now add conflict of interests to the  growing  list of reasons to reject the proposed project.


Friends of the Earth along with The Checks & Balances Project recently discovered that Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the company that wrote the bulk of the State Department's environmental review of the project, lied on their conflict of interest form filed with the State Department. FOE and the CBP compiled a dossier of publicly available documents showing the very clear conflict of interest and deliberate lack of disclosure by ERM.

In their papers to the federal agency, ERM assured the State Department that “ERM has no business relationship with TransCanada or its affiliates”, when in fact the two have been working together since at least 2011 on a pipeline in Alaska. In addition ERM claimed to have no relationship with businesses that would be affected by the pipeline. FOD and the CBP's report discovered that ERM has done business with over a dozen companies with stakes in Alberta's tar sands that are fit to benefit if the pipeline is built.


Last Friday a coalition of environmental groups, including and Walk for Our Grandchildren to orchestrate a day of civil disobedience to protest this corruption of transparent environmental review. Over 100 people gathered at the office building that houses ERM. 54 people entered the lobby and refused to leave when the police asked them to do so. Six of them chained themselves to one another with a black tube connecting their arms that read “NO KXL.”

I personally partook in this day of action but was not one of the 54 who got received court dates. With our friends in the lobby waiting for the next of six police wagons to pull up, about 70 more of us were outside showing our support for them and denouncing the lies of ERM. Many people who were intrigued by the commotion stopped to listen to what we were upset about. Every person that gave me the chance to fully describe the bias of ERM agreed that it is inappropriate for the State Department to accept their report on the pipeline.


It does not take extensive knowledge on the subject to understand that ERM is not the proper firm to assess the environmental impact of the Keystone XL project. Because of this clear breach of trust to conduct an objective study, a group of 30 organizations wrote an open letter to Secretary John Kerry asking him to restart the environmental review of the project, to punish ERM for lying on federal forms, and to initiate an investigation into why the department failed to notice these clear conflicts of interest.

It seems possible that if FOE and the CBP did not catch this conflict of interest, it would have gone unnoticed. It is troubling to consider that this is likely just one of the many instances where the fossil fuel industry is secretly gaming the system to their advantage to the detriment of the climate.

Last month President Obama unfurled his long-awaited climate change plan. In it he stated that he would only approve the Keystone XL pipeline “only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” Bringing the decision down to greenhouse gases was a big step.

In a shift in tone Obama told the New York Times last week that the number of jobs from the pipeline would be just “a blip relative to the need,” invalidating claims from Republicans that the project would bring thousands of jobs He cited estimates from the State Department that the tar sands project would only create 50 to 100 permanent jobs once the project is completed.


And then in a speech in Chattanooga, TN, Obama mocked the claims again. “They keep on talking about this oil pipeline coming down from Canada that’s estimated to create about 50 permanent jobs. That’s not a jobs plan,” he said with a smirk, seeming to stifle a chuckle.


One year ago even the most optimistic environmental activists had to admit that the future looked bleak on the Keystone XL issue. To hear the president speak in this new way about the project is leaps and bounds ahead from where we were. Much of this progress should be accredited to the activists out in the streets, organizing rallies, writing letters, and spreading the word about this corrupt process. The public debate on the pipeline for the past few years has reeked of oil money. But that is changing thanks to the people who know that democracy is for them, not the corporations.

Video courtesy of Chesapeake Climate Action Network
(That's me leading the chant at 1:08)

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