Inspector General to Investigate Keystone XL House of Cards
By Michael Marx
Last Friday, the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General confirmed that it will investigate evidence that the agency violated ethics guidelines when it hired an oil industry consultant to draft the Keystone XL environmental impact statement. This evidence adds to the growing criticism that the State Department’s conclusion, which minimizes the Keystone XL’s profound impact on U.S. carbon pollution, is based on a faulty and biased review. In fact, the tar sands pipeline is a climate disaster waiting to happen.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
In April and again in July, the Sierra Club and partner groups presented evidence of ethics violations by State and their consultant, Environmental Resources Management (ERM). We requested that the Office of the Inspector General investigate how and why the State Department hired ERM despite the company’s close ties to TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline proposal, and to the American Petroleum Institute, the industry lobbying group that is leading PR efforts to promote the pipeline and an organization of which ERM is a dues-paying member.
ERM was legally obliged to disclose both its connection to Big Oil as well as any way in which it might financially benefit from completion of Keystone XL. But ERM failed to disclose its conflicts of interest, and the State Department failed to verify ERM’s assertions that it had no interest in the outcome of the pipeline decision. When these conflicts first appeared in documents that demonstrated the connections between ERM employees and oil companies that would benefit from the Keystone XL, the State Department redacted these biographies on its website in an attempt to conceal the connections from the public.
This situation is, sadly, a repeat of the State Department’s hiring of Cardno-Entrix, another “conflicted” oil industry consultant, which the department hired to draft the 2011 environmental review of Keystone XL. An Inspector General investigation of that process concluded in 2012 that the consultant was biased and went on to recommend that the State Department redesign its process to ensure that consultants who might profit from a decision are not in charge of the environmental review for that decision. The State Department clearly ignored that recommendation that the fox should not guard the henhouse.
So it’s not surprising, with ERM as the primary author, that this past spring, the State Department put forward yet another distorted draft environmental review that dismissed the critical climate, human health and environmental threats posed by the proposed pipeline. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency saw straight through the rouse when it issued a failing grade to the review for “insufficient information” on greenhouse gas emissions, pipeline safety and community and environmental justice effects. Each of these are important factors in the review of a project that promises to deliver massive amounts of carbon pollution and air and water pollution for communities near refineries and along the pipeline route.
In the 2013 draft environmental review, the State Department and ERM dismiss some of the project’s most significant environmental concerns, such as its climate impacts, asserting that the development of Alberta tar sands is inevitable and that Keystone XL won’t have a direct bearing on climate pollution. They also ignore concerns about air and water pollution, human health and safety, wildlife and the rights of landowners. There is no shortage of evidence that the report’s assumptions are wrong. The Sierra Club and our partners presented a long list of the problems with the pipeline and with the review process both in our April 2013 comments and in a recent request for a new review based on new information from government, oil industry and Wall Street sources that undermine the State Department’s conclusions. We also filed a lawsuit to make sure that the public has access to all of the information about Keystone XL and the hiring of ERM before the State Department reaches its decision.
The real question here is how did the State Department get it so wrong? The answer, simply, is that the State Department once again hired the oil industry to evaluate itself—and, not surprisingly, the industry gave itself a passing grade. But we’ve come a long way since this pipeline was first proposed in 2008. We’ve built opposition to this dirty and dangerous pipeline into a national movement. Americans recognize a bad deal when they see one, and now that they are getting a better look at this one, it’s looking less like some kind of favor from our friends to the north and more like a house of cards.
The State Department needs to go back to the drawing board. It needs to listen to the Office of the Inspector General this time and stop hiring consultants with deep oil-industry ties. It needs to look at the facts about this pipeline and the threat it poses to the climate and to the American people. Even the pro-pipeline consultants drafting this tainted review couldn’t hide the fact that the pumps that would be used to move tar sands across the U.S. alone would create as much carbon pollution each year as is produced by 626,000 cars. That doesn’t even scratch the surface of the harm that the Keystone XL pipeline would bring, but that’s all you need to know to see that the pipeline will “significantly exacerbate” climate pollution.
It doesn’t really matter which card you pull when you want to bring down a house of cards. The Keystone XL proposal is teetering with false assumptions, biased information and a shaky conclusion that won’t withstand even the slightest breeze of scrutiny. Secretary Kerry and President Obama have everything they need right now to conclude that this pipeline fails the “national interest” test. It’s time for the State Department to get the oil industry out of the business of reviewing its own projects on behalf of the American people. And it’s time to reject this dirty, dangerous pipeline once and for all.
Visit EcoWatch’s KEYSTONE XL page for more related news on this topic.
Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.
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A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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