Nearly five years ago, a letter from Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Patrick Leahy, and Sen. Ron Wyden, to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned the State Department of a conflict of interest in the selection of Cardno Entrix, a private consulting firm, in conducting an environmental review of the safety of the controversial Keystone Pipeline XL project.
Danielle Droitsch, Canada Project Director with the National Resources Defense Council, was first to report on the letter in her policy blog.
However, mainstream news coverage of the initial contact between the 3 senators and Sec. Clinton was limited. The firm was permitted by the State Department, under Sec. Hillary Clinton, to conduct an environmental impact review (EIS) of the tar sands pipeline, although they had previously listed TransCanada Corp., the owner of the Keystone Pipeline as a "major client."
Obama rejected the Keystone XL expansion project this past November, citing environmental concerns. The White House worried the project would have a significant impact on the supply of clean water in the U.S. across the Great Plains States. According to a Washington Post story from November 2011:
"White House officials became concerned about the political repercussions of approving the pipeline, and in November 2011 the administration said it would review alternatives to the proposed route, which crossed the Ogallala Aquifer that stretches across Nebraska and other Great Plains states. The aquifer is one of the world's largest underground sources of fresh water and supplies drinking water to millions of people in the Plains. That review effectively delayed the decision until after Obama's reelection."
In a letter to the State Department in August 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency was also concerned "about the risk of oil spills that could affect drinking water and sensitive ecosystems, as well as the effect of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline."
But just recently at Sunday's debate in Flint, MI, Clinton, touted her commitment to clean water availability and the environment.
Joe Romm, reporting for ClimateProgress in 2011, declared that the environmental review process by Cardno Entrix should have been invalidated, once the conflict of interest was plainly made known. The Los Angeles Times broke the story in the mainstream press in July of 2011 about the flawed environmental review:
"The State Department has completed two environmental impact statements on the pipeline with the help of Cardno Entrix, a private environmental consulting firm that has said its biggest clients include TransCanada Corp., the owner of the Keystone pipeline system, whose current routes extend from Hardisty, Alberta, to Oklahoma and Illinois. Cardno Entrix gained national attention last year as the environmental consultant for BP after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The Environmental Protection Agency has criticized the resulting assessments as fundamentally flawed. "What we've seen from the State Department recently are sloppy reports, inadequate investigations and a total disregard for the dozen accidents that occurred" in the existing Keystone I pipeline, said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. "If the president doesn't stand up, all signs point to an agency that is simply going through the motions before giving its approval."
Sanders' letter from October 4, 2011 to Sec. Clinton at the State Department reads:
"We write to express our serious concern with recent reports that the Department of State allowed a contractor with a financial relationship with TransCanada, which seeks to build the Keystone XL pipeline, to conduct the Department's environmental review mandated under federal law as pan of its consideration of TransCanada's proposed pipeline. " "We find it inappropriate that a contractor with financial ties to TransCanada, which publicly promotes itself by identifying TransCanada as a "major client", was selected to conduct what is intended to be an objective government review." "This is a critically important issue for our environment and the energy future of our county. At a time when all credible scientific evidence and opinion indicate that we are losing the battle against global warming, it is imperative that we have objective environmental assessments of major carbon-dependent energy projects. An entity with a financial stake in the success or failure of a developer's project proposal is not in a position to provide such an assessment. It is our strong opinion that the only satisfactory remedy is for the Department to conduct a new, objective, and comprehensive environmental review, either directly or through a contractor with no financial ties to TransCanada."
A Mother Jones exclusive by Andy Kroll from March 21, 2013, notes that beyond ignoring the conflict of interest inherent in the environmental impact study, the State Department further attempted to minimize the risks of the controversial Keystone Pipeline XL project:
"State released documents in conjunction with the Keystone report in which these experts' work histories were redacted so that anyone reading the documents wouldn't know who'd previously hired them. Yet unredacted versions of these documents obtained by Mother Jones confirm that three experts working for an outside contractor had done consulting work for TransCanada and other oil companies with a stake in the Keystone's approval." "The State Department has faced heaps of criticism for potential conflicts of interests involving TransCanada and Keystone XL. ...Emails obtained by Friends of the Earth, an environmental group that opposes the Keystone pipeline, revealed a cozy relationship between TransCanada lobbyist Paul Elliott and Marja Verloop, an official at the US Embassy in Canada whose portfolio covers the Keystone project. Before he lobbied for TransCanada, Elliott worked as deputy campaign manager on Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential bid. Clinton served as secretary of state until recently."
Brendan DeMelle at Desmogblog has detailed the extensive relationship between Clinton and and the State Department and lobbyists for TransCanada. Sanders continued the pressure on the Keystone Pipeline XL issue later on in 2011 with an editorial in The Guardian:
"Picture this: a large, multibillion dollar Canadian corporation comes to the president of the United States and wants to build a 1,700-mile oil pipeline from Canada all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. After reviewing the project, it becomes clear that instead of reducing America's reliance on oil from overseas, this pipeline would carry oil across America, risking spills on our land and waters, just to export the oil to other countries. In addition, the pipeline would increase gasoline prices in America, add to our air pollution, and most importantly, be a major setback in the fight to reverse global warming."
-Christine S. Escobar