WASHINGTON –- Twenty-five House Democrats sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Thursday urging him to delay a decision on Keystone XL until the State Department's Inspector General finishes investigating the contractor that completed the environmental analysis of the proposed pipeline.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee's Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, took the lead on the letter expressing "serious concerns about conflicts of interest" related to the consulting firm that authored the most recent environmental impact analysis, which downplayed environmental and safety concerns. As The Huffington Post has previously reported, after contractor Environmental Resources Management wrote the report on Keystone XL, it was discovered that some of the consultants involved in the analysis had done previous work for the company seeking to build the pipeline, TransCanada. They had also done work for a TransCanada subsidiary and for other oil companies that could benefit from the pipeline's construction. Documents released via a Freedom of Information Act Request showed that the company had not disclosed the previous work in its conflict of interest statement.
ERM's supplemental environmental impact statement, released last March, found that the environmental effects of the pipeline are "expected to be rare and relatively small." A final version of the report has not yet been released, but will inform the State Department's ultimate decision on the pipeline. Because the proposed 1,600-mile pipeline from Alberta, Canada to Texas crosses an international border, State will make the call on whether or not it gets built.
Environmental groups asked the State Department's Office of Inspector General to look into whether the contractors' previous work for TransCanada should have been considered a conflict of interest. The IG's analysis is still underway. Doug Welty, a spokesman for the IG's office, told The Huffington Post Thursday that his office expects to release the report at the end of January, sooner than the previous estimate of late February.
The members of Congress wrote Thursday that it "would be unwise and premature" for the State Department to release a final environmental impact analysis from ERM while the investigation is ongoing. The letter also accuses the company of "lying to federal officials about its ties to TransCanada and over a dozen oil companies with a direct stake in whether or not Keystone XL gets approved." From the letter:
The Department of State apparently overlooked these conflicts when it accepted Environmental Resources Management’s (ERM) bid to perform the analysis. Because of the seriousness of the conflicts and because of allegations that ERM lied to the Department of State to get the contract, we believe no EIS from the company – draft or final – should be accepted by the administration before these issues are resolved.
The IG's office had already looked into conflict of interest concerns regarding another contractor, Cardno Entrix, after environmental advocates pointed out that the company had done quite a bit of previous work for TransCanada. That IG report concluded that hiring Cardno Entrix had not created an actual conflict of interest, but it dinged the State Department for failing to independently evaluate the contractor's claim that it had no conflicts and for "accepting them at face value."
The lawmakers urged the White House to wait for the outcome of this latest investigation before making any decisions on the pipeline. "If the allegations that ERM lied to the Department of State about its conflicts of interest turn out to be true the Department of State must conduct a new [environmental impact statement] that is not tainted by conflicts of interest," they wrote.
CORRECTION: This article previously identified Rep. Raul Grijalva as the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee. He is the ranking member of one of its subcommittees.