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Follow the Fracking Money All the Way to Keystone XL Conflicts of Interest

Climate

By Steve Horn

Most don't think of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, when pondering the future of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline—but they should. 

There are numerous ties between key members of the fracking industry and groups pushing for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. And these threads all lead back, one way or another, to Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM).

ERM did the official U.S. State Department's environmental review for Keystone XL pipeline. The review, published in March 2013, determined the pipeline will have negligible climate change impacts. The review dealt with the northern segment of the pipeline as the southern half, now known as the "Gulf Coast Pipeline," received an expedited Executive Order permit by President Barack Obama in March 2012.

ERM is also a paying member of the American Petroleum Institute (API), which has spent over $22 million lobbying on Keystone XL since June 2008. 

In its bid to provide the environmental review for the Keystone XL pipeline, ERM overtly lied on its conflict-of-interest form, saying it has no current business ties to TransCanada. ERM has an ongoing consulting relationship with the company responsible for the Alaska South Central LNG Project, also known as Alaska Gas Pipeline Project. The company, South Central LNG, is co-owned by TransCanada.

On top of lying about its current business ties, ERM stated on the conflict-of-interest form it had no "direct or indirect relationship (financial, organizational, contractual or otherwise) with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work." In so doing, ERM may have broken federal law—18 USC § 1001—by making a false claim on a federal contract.

The State Department's Office of Inspector General has officially launched an inquiry into how and why State overlooked ERM's omission, allowing ERM to potentially commit a crime. 

In addition to potentially fraudulent claims about its connection to TransCanada, ERM also has significant ties to major gas industry groups and major players supporting the fracking boom in the U.S.

The details will follow below, but for starters, here are the connections in a nutshell:

Exhibit A: Kathryn "Katie" Klaber (pictured left), departing head of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, one of the most powerful gas industry lobby groups in the U.S.

Prior to serving as Executive Director of the lobbying powerhouse, Klaber began her career at Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group). ERM is a former dues-paying member of the Marcellus Shale Coalition. 

Exhibit B: ICF International, an additional firm contracted by the State Department to perform the environmental review.

ICF maintains important ties to the industry-funded Center for Sustainable Shale Development and to U.S. Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, an outspoken fracking proponent.

Former ICF Vice President Karl Hausker is the husband of Kathleen "Katie" McGinty (pictured right), former head of President Clinton's Department of Environmental Quality, environmental aide to Vice President Al Gore and 2014 Democratic Party candidate for Governor in Pennsylvania.

Exhibit C: One of the key functions of Keystone XL's northern half—referred to by TransCanada as the "Bakken Marketlink" pipeline—is to bring fracked Bakken Shale oil to market.

The ties that bind raise even more questions about the legitimacy of the State Department's contracted out environmental review. Below follows the thorough treatment.

A: Marcellus Shale/ERM Group Ties That Bind

ERM paid $15,000 a year for a Marcellus Shale Coaliton membership, the shale gas industry's lobbying tour de force, until October 2011.

Its headquarters are located near Philadelphia, PA, the state at the epicenter of the fracking boom. ERM also networked with the gas industry, provided speakers and sponsored a booth at Marcellus Shale Coalition's "Shale Gas Insight" conference in 2012, which took place in Philadelphia.  

Beyond fiscal ties, Katie Klaber—Marcellus Shale Coalition's first president—is a former ERM higher-up.

"Through the 1990s, Kathryn Klaber worked for the international environmental, health and safety consulting firm, Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM), first ... in Philadelphia, then in her native Pittsburgh," explains a biographical sketch. "She supervised multinational projects, primarily for Fortune 1000 companies, involving staff from across the company’s 130 offices."

"During her last three years with the firm, Ms. Klaber managed the Pittsburgh regional office, responsible for all aspects of the practice including business development, product delivery, staffing and financial management." 

ERM also works with production companies to secure ample water supplies for fracking. Around 2010, ERM conducted a "water resource study for each of six U.S. States crossed by the Marcellus Shale," according to its website, to aid companies looking to develop shale gas deposits in the area.

Ed Hinchey is another key figure operating between ERM and the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Hinchey is a Principle Partner and Marcellus Program Director at ERM and a biography lists him as an active member of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

In November 2012, Hinchey debated against Cornell University's Robert Howarth, co-author of the May 2011 study showing shale gas development is worse for the climate than coal development when both are measured over their entire lifecycles.  

At that debate, when asked if he would change his mind if science proved fracking's perils, Hinchey responded, “The beauty of science is that it is never settled,” uttering a familiar stock phrase from the "Tobacco Playbook." ERM formerly had close ties to the tobacco industry.

In addition to Klaber and Hinchey, ERM hosts numerous other fracking advocates.

John Alexander, current CEO of ERM Group, is also on the record stating, "The chance that a major drinking water source will be contaminated by natural gas drilling operations is fairly slim."

ERM Foundation also has a fracking tie through board member Paul Woodruff, former CEO and Founder of the foundation in 1994.

Woodruff is now the founder, president, CEO and majority shareholder of Sustainable Resources Group, a spin-off of ECOR Solutions as of May 2011. ECOR Solutions spun off of ERM C&O Services Inc. in 2001, a former subsidiary of ERM.

Sustainable Resources Group is also a former dues-paying member of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, which it joined in Feb. 2012.

ERM Group also does “environmental services” for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, another shale gas industry lobbying powerhouse. 

B: Center for Sustainable Shale Development/ICF International Ties That Bind

ICF International, the other contractor the State Department hired to perform the environmental review, is also tightly tied to the shale gas industry—and to the Obama Administration itself. Ernest Moniz (right), Obama's new Secretary of Energy, formerly sat on ICF's Board, where he earned $305,000 for a two year term.

ICF recently wrote a report on behalf of American Petroleum Institute making the case for U.S. shale gas exports and also has a client relationship with America's Natural Gas Alliance, a gas industry sponsored lobby group. It's the Department of Energy, with Moniz at the helm, that has the final say over the future of fracked gas exports.

In March 2013, five environmental groups and four shale gas corporations teamed up to create the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, referred to as the "Big Green Fracking Machine" by the Public Accountability Initiative, a watchdog group, in a recent report. The report found the Center for Sustainable Shale Development has numerous ties to the natural gas industry.

One of the environmental groups making of the "fracking machine" is the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, was previously run by Karl Hausker (left), former VP of ICF International and husband of Katie McGinty.

McGinty gave Hausker's Pennsylvania Environmental Council over $2.8 million in grants while heading Democratic Governor Ed Rendell's Department of Environmental Conservation and was reprimanded by the state's ethics board for doing so. She's now a business partner of Rendell's at Element Partners, which provides investment capital to shale gas industry start-ups.

Other featured Center for Sustainable Shale Development environmental groups include both the Clean Air Task Force and Environmental Defense Fund, both of which also had representatives sitting on the industry-stacked Department of Energy Fracking Subcommittee that Katie McGinty also sat on, formed in May 2011. Another represented group was World Resources Institute, where Hausker currently sits as a Senior Fellow. 

That subcommittee drew up the loophole-ridden fracking chemical disclosure standards embraced by ExxonMobil and passed as a model bill, first by the Council of State Governments and then by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), both in late 2011. In May 2013, those same standards—at this point state law in many places—became the Bureau of Land Management's chemical disclosure standards for fracking on public lands.

FracFocus—a front group for PR corporation Brothers and Company, whose clients include America's Natural Gas Alliance, Chesapeake Energy and Chesapeake front group Clean Skies Foundation—is the industry-chosen entity tasked to oversee fracking chemical disclosure.

"The [Center for Sustainable Shale Development] bills itself as a 'Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design' (LEED) for the gas industry, putting forward 15 standards for fracking and certifying drillers that voluntarily comply with those standards," Public Accountability Initiative explained in the report.

For $30,000, frackers can obtain LEED-style certifications and those certifications will be doled out by—you guessed it—ICF International.

ICF also runs the “Gas Market Model,” which “provides clients with analysis and forecasts of regional gas markets throughout North America," according to its website.

Coming full circle, "Market Model" was utilized in its study funded by America's Clean Skies Foundation and is titled "The Future of Natural Gas," co-authored by then Massachusetts of Technology professor and ICF International Board Member, Ernest Moniz. The MIT study was one of the first major examples of "frackademia."

Furthermore, ICF is a major donor to MIT's Energy Intiative, giving $125,000 per year in endowments for the Initiative starting in 2011, the same year Moniz was named to sit on ICF's Board. 

C: Bakken Shale Connection to ERM and Philly

Investors refer to Keystone XL's northern half as the "Bakken Marketlink" pipeline.

That's because one of the main goals of the pipeline's northern half—other than pulling Alberta's tar sands to Gulf Coast export markets—is to carry North Dakota's Bakken Shale fracked oil to market via pipeline. Right now, due to lack of pipeline infrastructure, rail serves as the chief way to get fracked Bakken Oil to market.

In June 2013, ERM said a Bakken fracked oil and tar sands refinery made the air "cleaner" in Delaware City in a study funded by the owner of the refinery itself. The fracked oil and tar sands bitumen gets to that refinery via freight rail owned by Norfolk Southern. 

And tying it all back to where the tale began in Philadelphia, the unconventional oil industry is gearing up to carry upwards of 400,000 barrels of Bakken fracked oil via freight rail to the city's refineries.

Industry publication Rig Zone said this could make Philadelphia a prospective "Cushing East," referring to Cushing, OK, the "pipeline crossroads of the world." Philly may soon also become a shale gas export hub.

It was in Cushing that President Obama—standing in front of the pipe pieces that would soon make up the 95-percent complete Keystone XL's southern half —made a speech in March 2012 promoting expedited building of the "Cushing Marketlink" that will pump 700,000 barrels of tar sands per day to Gulf Coast refineries by the end of the year.

Visit EcoWatch’s KEYSTONE XL and FRACKING pages for more related news on this topic.

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Brazilians living in The Netherlands organized a demonstration in solidarity with rainforest protectors and against the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro on Sept. 1 in The Hague, Netherlands. Romy Arroyo Fernandez / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Tara Smith

Fires in the Brazilian Amazon have jumped 84 percent during President Jair Bolsonaro's first year in office and in July 2019 alone, an area of rainforest the size of Manhattan was lost every day. The Amazon fires may seem beyond human control, but they're not beyond human culpability.

Bolsonaro ran for president promising to "integrate the Amazon into the Brazilian economy". Once elected, he slashed the Brazilian environmental protection agency budget by 95 percent and relaxed safeguards for mining projects on indigenous lands. Farmers cited their support for Bolsonaro's approach as they set fires to clear rainforest for cattle grazing.

Bolsonaro's vandalism will be most painful for the indigenous people who call the Amazon home. But destruction of the world's largest rainforest may accelerate climate change and so cause further suffering worldwide. For that reason, Brazil's former environment minister, Marina Silva, called the Amazon fires a crime against humanity.

From a legal perspective, this might be a helpful way of prosecuting environmental destruction. Crimes against humanity are international crimes, like genocide and war crimes, which are considered to harm both the immediate victims and humanity as a whole. As such, all of humankind has an interest in their punishment and deterrence.

Historical Precedent

Crimes against humanity were first classified as an international crime during the Nuremberg trials that followed World War II. Two German Generals, Alfred Jodl and Lothar Rendulic, were charged with war crimes for implementing scorched earth policies in Finland and Norway. No one was charged with crimes against humanity for causing the unprecedented environmental damage that scarred the post-war landscapes though.

Our understanding of the Earth's ecology has matured since then, yet so has our capacity to pollute and destroy. It's now clear that the consequences of environmental destruction don't stop at national borders. All humanity is placed in jeopardy when burning rainforests flood the atmosphere with CO₂ and exacerbate climate change.

Holding someone like Bolsonaro to account for this by charging him with crimes against humanity would be a world first. If successful, it could set a precedent which might stimulate more aggressive legal action against environmental crimes. But do the Amazon fires fit the criteria?

Prosecuting crimes against humanity requires proof of widespread and systematic attacks against a civilian population. If a specific part of the global population is persecuted, this is an affront to the global conscience. In the same way, domestic crimes are an affront to the population of the state in which they occur.

When prosecuting prominent Nazis in Nuremberg, the US chief prosecutor, Robert Jackson, argued that crimes against humanity are committed by individuals, not abstract entities. Only by holding individuals accountable for their actions can widespread atrocities be deterred in future.

The International Criminal Court's Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has promised to apply the approach first developed in Nuremberg to prosecute individuals for international crimes that result in significant environmental damage. Her recommendations don't create new environmental crimes, such as "ecocide", which would punish severe environmental damage as a crime in itself. They do signal, however, a growing appreciation of the role that environmental damage plays in causing harm and suffering to people.

The International Criminal Court was asked in 2014 to open an investigation into allegations of land-grabbing by the Cambodian government. In Cambodia, large corporations and investment firms were being given prime agricultural land by the government, displacing up to 770,000 Cambodians from 4m hectares of land. Prosecuting these actions as crimes against humanity would be a positive first step towards holding individuals like Bolsonaro accountable.

But given the global consequences of the Amazon fires, could environmental destruction of this nature be legally considered a crime against all humanity? Defining it as such would be unprecedented. The same charge could apply to many politicians and business people. It's been argued that oil and gas executives who've funded disinformation about climate change for decades should be chief among them.

Charging individuals for environmental crimes against humanity could be an effective deterrent. But whether the law will develop in time to prosecute people like Bolsonaro is, as yet, uncertain. Until the International Criminal Court prosecutes individuals for crimes against humanity based on their environmental damage, holding individuals criminally accountable for climate change remains unlikely.

This story originally appeared in The Conversation. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Author, social activist and filmmaker Naomi Klein speaking on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, 2018. Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Natalie Hanman

Why are you publishing this book now?

I still feel that the way that we talk about climate change is too compartmentalised, too siloed from the other crises we face. A really strong theme running through the book is the links between it and the crisis of rising white supremacy, the various forms of nationalism and the fact that so many people are being forced from their homelands, and the war that is waged on our attention spans. These are intersecting and interconnecting crises and so the solutions have to be as well.

The book collects essays from the last decade, have you changed your mind about anything?

When I look back, I don't think I placed enough emphasis on the challenge climate change poses to the left. It's more obvious the way the climate crisis challenges a rightwing dominant worldview, and the cult of serious centrism that never wants to do anything big, that's always looking to split the difference. But this is also a challenge to a left worldview that is essentially only interested in redistributing the spoils of extractivism [the process of extracting natural resources from the earth] and not reckoning with the limits of endless consumption.

What's stopping the left doing this?

In a North American context, it's the greatest taboo of all to actually admit that there are going to be limits. You see that in the way Fox News has gone after the Green New Deal – they are coming after your hamburgers! It cuts to the heart of the American dream – every generation gets more than the last, there is always a new frontier to expand to, the whole idea of settler colonial nations like ours. When somebody comes along and says, actually, there are limits, we've got some tough decisions, we need to figure out how to manage what's left, we've got to share equitably – it is a psychic attack. And so the response [on the left] has been to avoid, and say no, no, we're not coming to take away your stuff, there are going to be all kinds of benefits. And there aregoing to be benefits: we'll have more livable cities, we'll have less polluted air, we'll spend less time stuck in traffic, we can design happier, richer lives in so many ways. But we are going to have to contract on the endless, disposable consumption side.

Do you feel encouraged by talk of the Green New Deal?

I feel a tremendous excitement and a sense of relief, that we are finally talking about solutions on the scale of the crisis we face. That we're not talking about a little carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme as a silver bullet. We're talking about transforming our economy. This system is failing the majority of people anyway, which is why we're in this period of such profound political destabilisation – that is giving us the Trumps and the Brexits, and all of these strongman leaders – so why don't we figure out how to change everything from bottom to top, and do it in a way that addresses all of these other crises at the same time? There is every chance we will miss the mark, but every fraction of a degree warming that we are able to hold off is a victory and every policy that we are able to win that makes our societies more humane, the more we will weather the inevitable shocks and storms to come without slipping into barbarism. Because what really terrifies me is what we are seeing at our borders in Europe and North America and Australia – I don't think it's coincidental that the settler colonial states and the countries that are the engines of that colonialism are at the forefront of this. We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism. We saw it in Christchurch, we saw it in El Paso, where you have this marrying of white supremacist violence with vicious anti-immigrant racism.

That is one of the most chilling sections of your book: I think that's a link a lot of people haven't made.

This pattern has been clear for a while. White supremacy emerged not just because people felt like thinking up ideas that were going to get a lot of people killed but because it was useful to protect barbaric but highly profitable actions. The age of scientific racism begins alongside the transatlantic slave trade, it is a rationale for that brutality. If we are going to respond to climate change by fortressing our borders, then of course the theories that would justify that, that create these hierarchies of humanity, will come surging back. There have been signs of that for years, but it is getting harder to deny because you have killers who are screaming it from the rooftops.

One criticism you hear about the environment movement is that it is dominated by white people. How do you address that?

When you have a movement that is overwhelmingly representative of the most privileged sector of society then the approach is going to be much more fearful of change, because people who have a lot to lose tend to be more fearful of change, whereas people who have a lot to gain will tend to fight harder for it. That's the big benefit of having an approach to climate change that links it to those so called bread and butter issues: how are we going to get better paid jobs, affordable housing, a way for people to take care of their families?

I have had many conversations with environmentalists over the years where they seem really to believe that by linking fighting climate change with fighting poverty, or fighting for racial justice, it's going to make the fight harder. We have to get out of this "my crisis is bigger than your crisis: first we save the planet and then we fight poverty and racism, and violence against women". That doesn't work. That alienates the people who would fight hardest for change.

This debate has shifted a huge amount in the U.S. because of the leadership of the climate justice movement and because it is congresswomen of colour who are championing the Green New Deal. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaibcome from communities that have gotten such a raw deal under the years of neoliberalism and longer, and are determined to represent, truly represent, the interests of those communities. They're not afraid of deep change because their communities desperately need it.

In the book, you write: "The hard truth is that the answer to the question 'What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?' is: nothing." Do you still believe that?

In terms of the carbon, the individual decisions that we make are not going to add up to anything like the kind of scale of change that we need. And I do believe that the fact that for so many people it's so much more comfortable to talk about our own personal consumption, than to talk about systemic change, is a product of neoliberalism, that we have been trained to see ourselves as consumers first. To me that's the benefit of bringing up these historical analogies, like the New Deal or the Marshall Plan – it brings our minds back to a time when we were able to think of change on that scale. Because we've been trained to think very small. It is incredibly significant that Greta Thunberg has turned her life into a living emergency.

Yes, she set sail for the UN climate summit in New York on a zero carbon yacht ...

Exactly. But this isn't about what Greta is doing as an individual. It's about what Greta is broadcasting in the choices that she makes as an activist, and I absolutely respect that. I think it's magnificent. She is using the power that she has to broadcast that this is an emergency, and trying to inspire politicians to treat it as an emergency. I don't think anybody is exempt from scrutinising their own decisions and behaviours but I think it is possible to overemphasise the individual choices. I have made a choice – and this has been true since I wrote No Logo, and I started getting these "what should I buy, where should I shop, what are the ethical clothes?" questions. My answer continues to be that I am not a lifestyle adviser, I am not anyone's shopping guru, and I make these decisions in my own life but I'm under no illusion that these decisions are going to make the difference.

Some people are choosing to go on birth strikes. What do you think about that?

I'm happy these discussions are coming into the public domain as opposed to being furtive issues we're afraid to talk about. It's been very isolating for people. It certainly was for me. One of the reasons I waited as long as I did to try and get pregnant, and I would say this to my partner all the time – what, you want to have a Mad Max water warrior fighting with their friends for food and water? It wasn't until I was part of the climate justice movement and I could see a path forward that I could even imagine having a kid. But I would never tell anybody how to answer this most intimate of questions. As a feminist who knows the brutal history of forced sterilisation and the ways in which women's bodies become battle zones when policymakers decide that they are going to try and control population, I think that the idea that there are regulatory solutions when it comes to whether or not to have kids is catastrophically ahistorical. We need to be struggling with our climate grief together and our climate fears together, through whatever decision we decide to make, but the discussion we need to have is how do we build a world so that those kids can have thriving, zero-carbon lives?

Over the summer, you encouraged people to read Richard Powers's novel, The Overstory. Why?

It's been incredibly important to me and I'm happy that so many people have written to me since. What Powers is writing about trees: that trees live in communities and are in communication, and plan and react together, and we've been completely wrong in the way we conceptualise them. It's the same conversation we're having about whether we are going to solve this as individuals or whether we are going to save the collective organism. It's also rare, in good fiction, to valorise activism, to treat it with real respect, failures and all, to acknowledge the heroism of the people who put their bodies on the line. I thought Powers did that in a really extraordinary way.

What are you views on what Extinction Rebellion has achieved?

One thing they have done so well is break us out of this classic campaign model we have been in for a long time, where you tell someone something scary, you ask them to click on something to do something about it, you skip out the whole phase where we need to grieve together and feel together and process what it is that we just saw. Because what I hear a lot from people is, ok, maybe those people back in the 1930s or 40s could organise neighbourhood by neighbourhood or workplace by workplace but we can't. We believe we've been so downgraded as a species that we are incapable of that. The only thing that is going to change that belief is getting face to face, in community, having experiences, off our screens, with one another on the streets and in nature, and winning some things and feeling that power.

You talk about stamina in the book. How do you keep going? Do you feel hopeful?

I have complicated feelings about the hope question. Not a day goes by that I don't have a moment of sheer panic, raw terror, complete conviction that we are doomed, and then I do pull myself out of it. I'm renewed by this new generation that is so determined, so forceful. I'm inspired by the willingness to engage in electoral politics, because my generation, when we were in our 20s and 30s, there was so much suspicion around getting our hands dirty with electoral politics that we lost a lot of opportunities. What gives me the most hope right now is that we've finally got the vision for what we want instead, or at least the first rough draft of it. This is the first time this has happened in my lifetime. And also, I did decide to have kids. I have a seven year old who is so completely obsessed and in love with the natural world. When I think about him, after we've spent an entire summer talking about the role of salmon in feeding the forests where he was born in British Columbia, and how they are linked to the health of the trees and the soil and the bears and the orcas and this entire magnificent ecosystem, and I think about what it would be like to have to tell him that there are no more salmon, it kills me. So that motivates me. And slays me.

This story was originally published by The Guardian, and is republished here as part of the Covering Climate Now partnership to strengthen the media's focus on the climate crisis.

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