The State Department’s Inspector General has now confirmed that its inquiry into the independence of the environmental review process for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will not be complete until January 2014. ERM, the State Department contractor who has been responsible for completing the environmental review for the pipeline, is now under the microscope for a potential conflict of interest due to its close relationships with TransCanada and the oil industry. It is important that the State Department’s environmental review process for Keystone XL is independent and conflict free. This is particularly important given how the current environmental review released by ERM concluded that Keystone XL would not have a significant impact on climate or water despite evidence to the contrary. For this reason, it would be improper for the State Department to issue a Final Environmental Impact Statement before its Inspector General completes an inquiry into the integrity of the process.
For months, there have been serious questions about why the State Department’s environmental review concluded that Keystone XL would not have a significant impact on the environment when the evidence suggests otherwise. Amidst these questions, new evidence brought forward by the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth Canada revealed that ERM has close ties to the oil industry and to the main proponent of the project, TransCanada, and did not disclose these relationships to the State Department while it was being vetted to oversee the environmental review process. A recent letter from over 29 organizations said, “It is critical that the report on which the administration’s decision will rely on be free of any taint of impropriety or conflict of interest.”
It was a positive move when the State Department confirmed it would launch an inquiry into these allegations. But the IG inquiry isn’t complete and neither is the environmental review process which is still underway by ERM and under a lot of scrutiny. That is why the launch of the inquiry immediately raised questions about the whether it would affect the timeline for process.
It would be improper for the State Department to release its Final Environmental Impact Statement before the IG inquiry is completed and released to the public. It is important that the State Department get it right. The draft environmental review’s conclusion that Keystone XL will have little effect on the climate, air quality, and water resources is out of step and is not supported by the evidence. The serious flaws of the EIS have been highlighted by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of the Interior. Getting the process right is not only good to ensure the integrity of the process but to ensure that the true impact of the project on communities, air quality, climate, and water supply are fully understood. The public deserves nothing less.