A screeching halt to Keystone XL plans?

November 7th, 2011 · No Comments

Today, the day after Keystone Pipeline in front of WHsome 13,000 people surrounded the White House to call on President Obama to apply leadership in denying the Keystone XL pipeline application (excellent Inside Climate News article), Politico broke the news that the State Department’s Inspector General will conduct an investigation into State’s handling of the Keystone XL pipeline application. Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN-9), who has been a real leader on this issue, issued a press release along with State’s memo to him.

“Given the significant economic, environmental, and public health implications of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the American people deserve an accurate, unbiased review,” said Congressman Cohen, who was the only member of Congress to attend yesterday’s anti-Keystone rally outside the White House. “The recent allegations of corruption and conflicts of interest are disconcerting, and I appreciate that the Office of Inspector General is investigating the State Department’s review process. As stated in a previous letter to the President, I ask that he withhold any final decision on the pipeline until the investigation is complete.”


Back in August, Congressman Cohen laid out some of his concerns :

“I am disappointed that after numerous Congressional letters and serious concerns from the environmental community the State Department has failed once again to adequately asses the real environmental impact of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline,” said Congressman Cohen. “With 12 spills in less than one year of operation in the original Keystone Pipeline, TransCanada has proven they are incapable of safely operating a tar sands pipeline that protects our environment and economy. Natural resources like the Ogallala Aquifer which Keystone XL would run through are invaluable and we should not put a dangerous, dirty tar sands pipeline through the heart of it.”

In late October, Congressman Cohen and Senator Sanders (I-VT) sent a letter to the IG asking for this investigation due to allegations as to potential improper TransCanada influence on the review process, the use of a TransCanada consultant to do much of State’s work, and so on. On Friday, State’s IG sent a letter stating that there would be a review:

In repsonse to a Congressional request, the Office of Inspector General is initiating a special review of the Department of State’s handling of the Environmental Impact Statement and National Interest Determination for TransCanada Corporation’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The primary objective is to determine to what extent the Department and all other parties involved complied with Federal laws and regulations relating to the Keystone XL pipeline permit process.

Again, there have been serious and substantive questions that create questions as to the answers “to what extent”. While the IG’s investigation will likely be quite narrow and not delve into substantive questions as to whether the State Department irresponsibly downplayed the economic and national security implications of Tar Sands production’s influence on climate chaos, this investigation might represent more than a bump in the road for the pipeline submission. For the pipeline proposers, every day in process means tangible and real costs. For those fighting to prevent this fossil foolish project, every day in process creates more opportunity to articulate clearly — to the public and politicians — why this project is not in the nation’s economic, environmental, or national security interests.

Erich Pica, President of Friends of the Earth, which has been a leader in uncovering questionable legal and ethical issues in State’s handling of Keystone XL, came out swinging on the news:

“The State Department’s Inspector General has launched an investigation into wrongdoing in the department’s review of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Given this, Friends of the Earth calls for an immediate suspension of the pipeline permitting process until the investigation is complete.

“There is overwhelming evidence that the pipeline review process has been a sham, corrupted by bias, lobbyist influence and conflicts of interest. It should be obvious to the White House that it would be wholly inappropriate to continue moving forward with this rigged process while violations of law and federal regulations are being investigated.

“In contrast to what we have seen emerge thus far from the State Department, a fair, impartial review would take into account the tremendous harm that the pipeline and tar sands extraction linked to it would cause, as well as the risks of spills and other environmental damage. If a fair review that accurately reflects the true costs of the pipeline is conducted, President Obama will have little choice but to stop the pipeline.”

From Tars Sands Action, this reaction:

It’s good to see the administration beginning to listen to responsible lawmakers, and we look forward to the results of this inquiry about the warped environmental review process. But it’s important to understand that the process has always been the smaller of our objections. while we’ve been dismayed by the corrupt conduct of the state department, our real problem has from the start been the fact that these tar sands are the second largest pool of carbon on earth. Since the State Department didn’t even bother to study that global warming question, the only real answer is to send this back for a whole new review — or, better yet, for the President to simply back up his campaign promises and deny the permit outright.

“Everyone should know that this will only encourage people across America to step up the tar sands fight. We’re headed to Obama offices across the country, including his headquarters in Chicago and in all the swing states, with the same message: President Obama promised to fight for the climate and now without Congress in the way, he can actually do it.”

NOTE: This NRDC video provides a good sense of mass around the White House at yesterday’s event: