keystone xl

The Keystone XL Coverup: The State Department's Attempt to Hide Oil Industry Connections

Mother Jones Magazine has uncovered a new twist in the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline. As it turns out the authors who drafted the environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline worked for TransCanada, Koch Industries, Shell Oil, and other oil corporations that stand to benefit from building the Keystone XL. Not only did the State Department know about these conflicts of interest, they redacted this information from public filings in attempt to conceal the truth.

For background, the Keystone XL is a proposed oil pipeline that would ship sour crude oil from the Canadian tar sands to the Gulf coast of Texas. The oil would then be refined and shipped abroad.

In order to build the pipeline, Transcanada, the company who proposed Keystone XL, must get the OK from the State Department. The State Department bases its decision on whether or not to approve the pipeline on an environmental review, conducted by a third party group overseen by the State Department and paid for by Transcanada.

This review, called the "draft supplemental environmental impact statement" was released earlier this month.  It has been widely criticized as downplaying the impact that building Keystone XL will have on the climate, and all but paving the way for approval for the project.

The review was conducted by a company called Environmental Resources Management (ERM). When ERM released its review of Keystone, it also released a 55 page filing claiming that there was no conflicts of interest in writing the report. However, the State Department redacted information from this filing, including the biographies of key experts involved in writing the report.

According to Mother Jones, those redactions were meant to keep ties between the report authors and Transanada a secret from the public. Here is what the State Department was covering up:

  • ERM's second-in-command on the Keystone report, Andrew Bielakowski, had worked on three previous pipeline projects for TransCanada over seven years as an outside consultant. He also consulted on projects for ExxonMobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips, three of the Big Five oil companies that could benefit from the Keystone XL project and increased extraction of heavy crude oil taken from the Canadian tar sands.
  • Another ERM employee who contributed to State's Keystone report—and whose prior work history was also redacted—previously worked for Shell Oil;
  • A third worked as a consultant for Koch Gateway Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of Koch Industries. Shell and Koch* have a significant financial interest in the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. ERM itself has worked for Chevron, which has invested in Canadian tar sands extraction, according to its website.

However, this is not the first time that the State Department has been criticized for conflicts of interests involving TransCanada and Keystone XL.

From Mother Jones:

In October 2011, Obama's reelection campaign hired Broderick Johnson, who had previously lobbied in favor of Keystone, as a senior adviser. 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.

 

The question is, how can the State Department get away with routinely ignoring or burying connections between the oil industry and regulators responsible for Keystone XL?

 

PHOTOS: Famed Photographer Alex MacLean’s New Photos of Canada’s Oilsands are Shocking

Photos by Alex Maclean, posted with permission from DeSmog Canada.

Crossposted from DeSmog Canada, written by Carol Linnitt: PHOTOS: Famed Photographer Alex MacLean’s New Photos of Canada’s Oilsands are Shocking

Alex MacLean is one of America’s most famed and iconic aerial photographers. His perspective on human structures, from bodies sunbathing at the beach to complex, overlapping highway systems, always seems to hint at a larger symbolic meaning hidden in the mundane. By photographing from above, MacLean shows the sequences and patterns of human activity, including the scope of our impact on natural systems. His work reminds us of the law of proximity: the things closest to us are often the hardest to see.

Recently MacLean traveled to the Alberta oilsands in western Canada. There, working with journalist Dan Grossman, MacLean used his unique eye to capture some new and astounding images of one of the world’s largest industrial projects. Their work, funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, will form part of a larger, forthcoming report for GlobalPost.

DeSmog Canada caught up with MacLean to ask him about his experience photographing one of Canada’s most politicized resources and the source of the proposed Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines.

Forest removal for exploratory well pad. Shell Jackpine mining site, North of Fort McMurray, Canada.*

Beds leading up to tailing pond.

DeSmog Canada: What was it like photographing the oilsands? Was it different from photographing other large-scale human spaces like highways or beaches? 

Alex MacLean: The oilsands covered a vast area of which I was only able to photograph part of. It was not only different from highways, beaches, etc., in that those are linear formations, but the scale of the oilsands area and the devastation to the landscape was overwhelming. I felt a relation between highways and the mines in that open pit mines and seismic exploration lines fragment the boreal forest just as highways do through urban areas. 

Steam and smoke rise from the Syncrude Mildred Lake mining facility.

Patches of boreal forest intertwined with snow-covered muskeg, near McLelland Lake, Alberta, Canada.

Clearing, dewatering, and seismic grid over the once boreal forest. Syncrude mining site, Alberta, Canada.

Syncrude Mildred Lake mining site. View south to upgrading facility with rising plumes of steam and smoke. Alberta, Canada.

Suncor Oil Sands Project. Piles of uncovered petrolum coke, a byproduct of upgrading tar sands oil to synthetic crude. "Petcoke" is between 30-80 per cent more carbon intense than coal per unit of weight.

DsC: What led to your interest in the Alberta oilsands?

AM: I have been photographing around the issues of climate change since early on, and actually put out a book looking at land use patterns as they relate to energy and consumption in 2008 called “OVER: The American Landscape at the Tipping Point.” I was drawn to photographing the pipeline because I feel as though there is little public awareness that, if built, the Keystone XL will make avoiding catastrophic climate change much harder. The pipeline is an important link in a fossil-fuel production machine, stocked with bitumen deposits at one end and refineries at the other. The public is unaware that this oil production machine is poorly regulated, though it will cause serious environmental and health effects on local, regional and planetary scales. 

Mining operations at the North Steepbank Extension. Suncor mine, Alberta, Canada.

Checkerboard clearing of the overburden at Syncrude Aurora North mine site. Alberta, Canada.

Seismic lines and well pad for exploratory drilling through the boreal forest at the Suncor Firebag Oil Sands Project. Alberta, Canada.

Smoke, steam, and gas flares rise from the Suncor upgrading facility. Reclamation efforts seen to the right, on what was once a tailing pond. Suncor has reclaimed only 7 per cent of their total land disturbance.

DsC: What is it like taking a bird's eye view of humanity? Do you sometimes have great insights looking at civilization from such a removed, abstracted position?

AM: One of the interesting things about aerial photography is how so much of what you see about humanity is devoid of people. What I see is tracks and markings that are telling about our culture and values. When you see the destruction of landscapes, in this case of the boreal forest, with the obvious contamination of the environment via water and air pollution, you can’t help but feel that there is very short-sighted exploitation of natural resources that will have long-lasting environmental impacts. 

Hot waste filling tailing pond. Suncor mining site, Alberta, Canada.

Earthen wall to tailing pond. Suncor mining site, Alberta, Canada.

Growing pyramids of sulfur, a byproduct of upgrading bitumen. Mildred Lake, Alberta, Canada.

DsC: You've been photographing 'human' spaces for a long time. Have you noticed a change over the last few decades in your perspective as society has grown more aware of the ecological crisis and the scale of our impact?

AM: You can’t help but notice the growth that has taken place in the last thirty years, and the build-out of what was once natural spaces. I would say in the last 15 years, at an escalating rate, you begin to see more sustainable sources of energy through wind and solar farms, and reconfiguring of urban spaces to make them more walkable. 

Overview of tailing pond at Suncor mining site.

Surface oil on tailing pond. Suncor mine near Fort McMurray.

Open box cars carrying sulfur byproduct. Edmonton, Canada.

* All captions provided by Alex MacLean.

Image Credit: All photos copyright Alex MacLean. Used with permission.

Exposed: ALEC's new anti-environmental agenda in Chicago this week

New internal documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reveal new methods that fossil fuel companies, agrochemical interests and corporate lobbying groups will influence certain state policies in the coming months through the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

ALEC's annual meeting is taking place in Chicago this week, just as Common Cause and CMD have filed a complaint to the IRS over ALEC's corporate-funded "Scholarships" for state legislators--ALEC is a tax exempt non-profit despite their mission of facilitating an exchange of company-crafted laws with state legislators in closed-door meetings.

ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force is drafting new model bills on behalf of its members like Duke Energy, ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and Peabody. ALEC's anti-environmental agenda in Chicago is available for viewing (see E&E PM and Earthtechling). These are the new model bills ALEC and its energy, chemical and agricultural interests are finalizing this week.

The Market-Power Renewables Act and the Renewable Energy Credit Act: ALEC and other Koch-funded State Policy Network groups like the Heartland Institute haven't had much success with their attempts to repeal state renewable portfolio standard (RPS) laws through the ALEC/Heartland Electricity Freedom Act. The Market-Power Renewables Act and Renewable Energy Credit Act are two newer, more subtle attempt to weaken RPS laws by phasing in a renewable power voluntary program, creating space for existing and out-of-state energy credits to displace new clean energy, and eventually repealing the RPS requirements entirely.

To slow the growth of clean energy competition, ALEC's fossil fuel members wrote these bills to allow increasing portions of a states clean energy generation requirements to be fulfilled by Renewable Energy Credits, or RECs. RECs are allowed to qualify in some states' RPS laws already, often in limited amounts, and they are not created equal. For instance, the benefits of burning gas leaking from landfills--something waste management companies would be selling anyway--are not on par with the societal benefits from building new sources of clean energy and displacing older, dirtier sources. You can see why ALEC member companies like American Electric Power or Duke Energy may take issue with this, given their reliance on coal and gas electricity generation.

Increasing the amount that RECs can qualify for state RPS targets means allowing more out-of-state energy. This could displace in-state jobs and economic benefits from clean energy development. The RECs may also come from sources that aren't defined as "renewable" in some states' RPS laws, or are only allowed in limited amounts, such as hydropower, biomass or biogas, creating a lowest common denominator effect. At the end of any given year, the ALEC bill would allow states to bank any extra energy generated from RECs beyond what the RPS law requires and use them to meet RPS targets for the following year. This could continually delay the growth of new, clean energy.

Resolution in Opposition to a Carbon Tax: Despite support for a carbon tax from ALEC members like ExxonMobil, ALEC is creating a model bill to weigh in on what will become the keystone policy battle for climate change science deniers, a battle that is already creating a rift among conservative groups, like the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation and the Heartland Institute against the R Street Institute. R Street formed when Heartland's Fire, Insurance and Real Estate program split away last year, after Heartland's insurance company funders were uncomfortable with the group comparing those who acknowledge climate change to the Unabomber.

Pre-Emption of Local Agriculture Laws Act: This bill would prevent governments under the state level (cities, towns, counties) from creating new laws or enforcing existing laws that have to do with the regulation of seeds and seed products--ie crops, flowers, and pretty much all food products grown in a state. This would allow companies like Monsanto (indirectly represented in ALEC through its membership in CropLife America, an agrochemical front group and ALEC energy task force member) to bottleneck regulations of their GMO seeds and products at the state government level and stop community resistance to their abusive patent laws and enforcement through lawsuits.

For examples of what ALEC has already been busy with this year, check out PR Watch's roundup of 77 anti-environmental ALEC bills that have popped up in state legislatures in 2013, supporting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project, rolling back renewable energy incentives and making it illegal to document animal abuse, among other issues.

More info on ALEC's broader corporate agenda can be found on ALEC Exposed.

3 major scandals in 3 months, the latest about Keystone XL

Since it was first proposed in 2008 the argument for building the Keystone XL pipeline, which would pump tar sands crude oil from Canada to the Gulf coast for refining and export to foreign countries, has had some major holes. Literally.

Sunlight is visible through a faulty weld in the Keystone XL pipeline. Picture taken from inside a section of pipe by activists with Tar Sands Blockade

If approved, Keystone will pump a super-heated mixture of tar, sand, and chemicals from the most carbon polluting oil development on earth, while the effects of global warming manifest themselves across the country and the world. In order to mine and refine tar sands the oil industry must burn 1 barrel of oil for every 3 barrels of oil produced, a marvel of inefficiency. The potential builders of the Keystone XL have been caught in scandal after scandal in their attempts to get government and popular approval for the pipeline. The last few months have revealed the lengths that TransCanada (the company building the pipeline) and other Keystone proponents will go to secure approval for Keystone.

A tar sands mining pit in what was once boreal forest

Here are 3 of the most important Keystone XL Scandals that have been revealed since April:

1) The State Department doesn't know where the Keystone XL pipeline will be located

A year and a half ago, Thomas Bachand, a researcher mapping the route of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, asked the State Department - the agency responsible for approving the pipeline - for the coordinates of the Keystone XL. He hoped to accurately map the pipeline route so that people would know which waterways, neighborhoods, and back yards would be affected. After 14 months of waiting and haggling for what should have been an easy answer, the State Department admitted in June that they did not possess the GIS coordinates of the pipeline, and therefore did not know its exact route. Yet the State Department has promised that the Keystone XL would be environmentally safe and does not threaten water supplies in its path. From the Environmental Impact Study used by the State Department:

“A limited number of public water supply wells are located within one mile of the proposed pipeline area (39 along the entire route; Montana-1, South Dakota-0, Nebraska-38), and a very limited number of private water supply wells are located within 100 feet of the pipeline (Montana-6; South Dakota-0, Nebraska-14).”

But how would the State Department know how close the pipeline runs to water sources without knowing where the pipeline will run?

A tar sands spill from Exxon's pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas

2) The private contractors hired to gauge the environmental impact of the Keystone XL for the State Department work for TransCanada and other oil companies that would benefit from building the pipeline, a major conflict of interest that the State Department tried to hide.

The most recent Environmental Impact Study (EIS) of the Keystone XL was conducted by the oil industry contractor Environmental Resource Management (ERM). Since it's release, the study has been widely criticized for both its glaring oversights and questionable findings. For instance, the EIS claims that building the Keystone XL, a giant among pipelines, would not have any effect on greenhouse gas emissions or the development of the Athabasca tar sands, even though the entire purpose of building the KXL is to increase tar sands development. Even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has questioned the trustworthiness of the study. As it turns out, ERM works for Transcanada, Koch Industries, Shell Oil, and other oil corporations that stand to benefit from building the Keystone XL. ERM is also a dues paying member of the American Petroleum Institute, which spent $22 million lobbying for the pipeline. Not only did the State Department know about these conflicts of interest, they redacted this information from public filings in an attempt to conceal the truth. ERM has a history of producing environmental studies that seem skewed toward befitting the oil companies that hire them. In March of this year, ERM released a study claiming that a tar sands refinery in Delaware made the air around the plant cleaner. The study, which was funded by the tar sands refinery in question, was challenged by independent air quality studies that found Benzene and other cancer-causing compounds far in excess of EPA standards. As the News Journal explains:

"Air-quality tests commissioned by a Delaware City citizens group show a jump in local chemical, soot and sulfur levels after the opening of the Delaware City refinery, with at least three toxic pollutants exceeding some public health limits in one spot a mile from the plant"

3) Obama Administration insiders have significant ties to TransCanada, which the company has tried to exploit.

As was recently reported by Steve Horn at DeSmog Blog, President Obama’s personal attorney, former White House Counsel Robert Bauer, has direct ties to TransCanada. Bauer works for Perkins Coie LLP, a major corporate law firm which represents TransCanada’s South Central LNG project. Furthermore, Robert Baur's wife, Anita Dunn, is the co-owner of the PR firm SDKnickerbocker, which handles public relations work for TransCanada. Dunn, who was a Communications Director for Obama and Senior Adviser for Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, has met with top Obama administration officials more than 100 times since leaving in 2009, according to a recent New York Times investigation. However, Robert Bauer and Anita Dunn are just the latest tie between TransCanada and US regulators to be uncovered. TransCanada and the government of Alberta, Canada have purposefully stacked their ranks with lobbyists that have ties to the Obama administration and/or John Kerry, who is now in charge of the State Department. From Friends of the Earth:

The Financial Times has found that Alberta made a point to hire former Obama officials and Kerry staff in order to win approval from the State Department instead of focusing on Congress like most lobby groups. TransCanada and Alberta’s lobbyists have been trying to convince the administration that the pipeline will create jobs and pose no threats to the environment, in the hopes that they can get the pipeline approved.

TransCanada also snapped up people leaving the State Department to help grease the wheels of approval for Keystone XL within the State Department. From Businessweek:

David Goldwyn, an aide to Hillary Clinton, was something of a mole for TransCanada, coaching the company’s executives on how to win favor at State with “better messaging.” After leaving the State Department, Goldwyn testified before Congress in favor of Keystone XL.

These latest 3 scandals are just the most recent examples of the extent to which TransCanada and other Keystone XL boosters have manipulated the approval system in favor of the pipeline. Help stop the Keystone XL and protect the families and water sources in it's path by telling President Obama not to approve pipeline. Sign the petition here.

INFOGRAPHIC: Koch Bros, Getting Richer While the World Burns

Charles Koch to Infographic: I don't trust you....you're too honest....

Originally posted on Republic Report and featured on Grist, by David Halperin. Information from Greenpeace's ongoing research on Koch Industries Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine is cited in the infographic.

Click to embiggen:

You may repost this infographic PROVIDED that you do not alter it in any way. Download

SOURCES:

1. FORBES 

2. SMITH (NOAA) & Katz (NCAR)

3. POLITICAL ECONOMY RESEARCH INSTITUTE

4. INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING WORKSHOP

5. GREENPEACE

6. CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY

7. THE HILL, NEW YORK TIMES

This post also appears on Huffington Post and Republic Report.

David Halperin, an attorney, was the founding director of Campus Progress at the Center for American Progress and a White House speechwriter for President Clinton.

Check Greenpeace.org for more Koch Facts.

US Gov't doesn't know exact Keystone XL pipeline route

The U.S. government doesn't know exactly where TransCanada wants to lay pipe for the northern section of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, according to the results of a 14-month Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. State DepartmentIn its final answer to a FOIA request by Thomas Bachand of the Keystone Mapping Project, the State Department admitted:

Neither Cardno ENTRIX nor TransCanada ever submitted GIS information to the Department of State, nor was either corporation required to do so. The information that you request, if it exists, is therefore neither physically nor constructively under the control of the Department of State and we are therefore unable to comply with your FOIA request.

Yes, you read that right. The U.S. State Department published its draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS)--supposedly an official account of the potential hazards of TransCanada's proposed pipeline on U.S. waterways, wildlife and other major considerations like global climate change--without knowing exactly where TransCanada wants to dig. Check out the full letter from State to Mr. Bachand at the Keystone Mapping Project.

Ongoing Conflicts of Interest in State Department Environmental Assessments

The State Department is already facing legitimate criticism for contracting companies with ties to TransCanada and other oil companies for its environmental impact estimates, which the Environmental Protection Agency has slammed for being "insufficient." State looked no further than oil industry contractors to run the draft SEIS--companies like Cardno ENTRIX, which calls TransCanada a "major client," and ERM Resources, a dues paying member of the American Petroleum Institute which is being investigated by the State Department's Inspector General for trying to hide its prior consulting for fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil, BP and Shell. In fact, TransCanada chose ERM Resources to do the Keystone XL SEIS review for the State Department, and one of ERM's people working on the review was formerly employed by TransCanada. 

TransCanada has stacked the deck, wagering American waterways and private property against the promise to profit from continued extraction of dirty tar sands petroleum.

Tar Sands Pipelines Spill

The potential is too high for Keystone XL to leak just like TransCanada's existing Keystone I pipeline has repeatedly done, or rupture like ExxonMobil's Pegasus tar sands pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas earlier this year, or Enbridge's tar sands pipeline spill in the Kalamazoo River. The southern leg of Keystone XL is already under construction, and the if the cracks, dents and other faults in the 'new' pipe are any indication, pollution from oil spills looks inevitable. Beyond being a disaster waiting to happen, KXL guarantees the continued disaster that is tar sands mining, a process that has already poisoned entire regions--and peoples' communities--in northern Alberta, Canada.

With President Obama's recently unveiled Climate Action Plan, it would be a limp gesture to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. You'd think with the State Department having its environmental analysis run by oil industry consultants, they'd listen to the oil industry's own guarantees that Keystone XL would increase demand for tar sands mining. That's bad news for our climate -- something the State Department cannot ignore if they do a reasonable review of the "unprecedented" amount of public comments on its draft SEIS on KXL.

What remains to be seen is if the State Department will be reasonable in the last leg of its review, or if it will continue letting TransCanada and Big Oil control the process to the bitter end.

Keystone Academy: Where Legislators Learn the Etiquette of Serving Special Interests

2012 ALEC Academy attendees. Photo via twitter

Written by Nick Surgey, crossposted with permission from PR Watch.

In October 2012, nine U.S. state legislators went on an industry paid trip to explore the Alberta tar sands. Publicly described as an "ALEC Academy," documents obtained by CMD show the legislators were accompanied on a chartered flight by a gaggle of oil-industry lobbyists, were served lunch by Shell Oil, dinner by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and that the expenses of the trip were paid for by TransCanada and other corporations and groups with a direct financial interest in the Alberta tar sands and the proposed Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline.

Among the nine legislators on the tour was the new ALEC national chairman, Representative John Piscopo from Connecticut, and Senator Jim Smith from Nebraska who has sponsored legislation in his state to speed up the building of the Nebraska segment of KXL. Email records obtained by CMD show that after the trip, legislators were asked by ALEC to send “thank you notes” to the lobbyists for their generosity in Alberta.

Far better than a mere "thank you," Rep. John Adams from Ohio returned from the trip and sponsored a bill given to him by a TransCanada lobbyist calling for the approval of KXL. As previously reported by CMD, similar legislation, reflecting both an ALEC “model” bill and language taken from a TransCanada set of talking points, has been introduced in seven states in 2013.

The tar sands of Alberta are estimated to be the third largest reserve of crude oil on the planet. But the process of turning the tar-like bitumen into a refined product that can be used as fuel is extremely energy intensive and highly polluting. The former NASA scientist James Hansen, warned that the extraction and use of Canadian tar sands would mean "game over" for the climate. TransCanada is the operator of the proposed KXL pipeline, which would carry the tar sands to Texas for processing and likely for exports to markets abroad.

In Private Jets and "Petroleum Club" Dinners, U.S Politicians Get the Dirt on Canadian Tar Sands

Officially, ALEC organized the Alberta tour as an "ALEC Academy." In ALEC’s description of corporate sponsorship opportunities, this type of event is described as being "an intensive, two--day program for legislators that focus on a specific area of policy." It comes with an $80,000 fee to sponsor. Unofficially however, and made clear to legislators on the trip in emails from ALEC obtained by CMD, the expenses were paid for by lobbyists from the oil-industry and by the government of Alberta. In an email sent to Ohio representative John Adams ahead of the trip, ALEC staffer Karla Jones reassured participants that all transportation, accommodation costs and meals would be paid for.

According to a copy of the trip itinerary obtained via a public records request, legislators flew into Alberta on Tuesday October 16, 2012, and were met by TransCanada lobbyists who took them on a tour of their facilities in Calgary.

TransCanada, which is a member of ALEC, sponsored ALEC’s Spring Task Force Summit in Oklahoma City in May 2013, alongside other corporations with tar sands interests including BP, Devon Energy and Koch Industries. TransCanada’s Vice President Corey Goulet presented to legislators at the conference during a session called "Embracing American Energy Opportunities."

Dinner on the first night was at the up-market Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in downtown Calgary, paid for by American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM). The dinner included a presentation to the captive audience of lawmakers from AFPM about Low-Carbon Fuel Standards (LCFS), a mechanism designed to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. As CMD has reported recently, LCFS is considered a real threat to the tar sands industry, because it might restrict the U.S. market for fuels derived from the tar sands. AFPM, which has funded one of the other groups on the tour – the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) – to work to oppose LCFS legislation, would successfully sponsor an ALEC "model" bill on this issue just weeks after the trip, called "Restrictions on Participation in Low-Carbon Fuel Standards Programs."

On Wednesday morning, after breakfast at the hotel, legislators were taken to the airport where a private charted plane was waiting to fly them around a number of different tar sands operations. Accompanying the legislators and ALEC staffer Karla Jones, were lobbyists from AFPM, TransCanada, Devon Energy, CEA, Shell Oil, and the Government of Alberta. The flight was chartered by the Alberta Government, at a cost of $22,000, with the costs split evenly between them and another unknown entity.

During the day, legislators toured facilities owned by Shell – which also provided lunch – and Devon Energy, where they viewed the massive "Jackfish" tar sands projects. At these facilities, Devon utilizes Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD), an energy intensive process that injects steam into the dirty bitumen to access otherwise inaccessible deposits too deep for mining. This process is expected to open up further areas of Alberta for tar sands extraction, including by Koch Industries subsidiary Koch Exploration Canada which has a pending permit request in Alberta to utilize SAGD.

Dinner on Wednesday night was served at the Petroleum Club, sponsored by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. On the Thursday morning, just before their return flight, legislators did have a brief meeting with a representative from the Pembina Institute, an Alberta environmental group that calls for responsible exploitation of the tar sands. According to the ALEC trip itinerary, this was to "provide the opposing point of view."

Although Pembina does represent a different view from those that want completely unrestrained extraction of the tar sands, the group is not representative of those that oppose tar sands extraction. There are plenty of organizations that could have provided alternative viewpoints, particularly first nation tribes who are campaigning vigorously on this issue, but perhaps unsurprisingly they were not included. Even Pembina’s - somewhat limited - opposing voice was not wanted during the tour of the oil sands facilities, and they were not invited to the lobbyist-sponsored dinners.

ALEC as Emily Post

A month after the trip, the Director of International and Federal Relations at ALEC, Karla Jones, sent participants an email helpfully reminding them of what each industry lobbyist had paid for on the tour. CMD obtained a copy of that communication via a public records request, which included a spreadsheet containing the names, telephone numbers and mailing addresses of each of the lobbyists on the trip. The ALEC email also prompted legislators to send each of the sponsoring corporations a "thank you note."

The phenomenon of ALEC legislators sending such letters to lobbyists is something CMD has previously reported on. Ohio Rep. Adams, for example, sent at least a dozen letters to corporate lobbyists in 2010, thanking them for writing checks to the ALEC scholarship fund, which paid his and his colleagues way to an ALEC conference.

"Because of your help and others like you, the trip to ALEC was made possible for our legislators," Adams wrote to AT&T lobbyist Bob Blazer.

“Rather than sending thank you notes to their corporate lobbyist sponsors, these legislators should instead consider an apology to their constituents,” Stephen Spaulding, Staff Counsel for the good government group Common Cause told CMD. "I doubt lobbyists want thank you notes in return for bankrolling legislators' international vacations – they would rather a bright, shiny souvenir in the form of corporate-drafted legislation."

Better Than a Thank You Note, Payback in Ohio

After the trip to Alberta, Rep. Adams, the Assistant Majority Floor Leader and Ohio ALEC state chair, led the calls in Ohio for the approval of the KXL pipeline, sponsoring a bill (HCR 9) and talking publicly about the proposed pipeline. "It is of the upmost importance that we strongly urge the U.S. government to take the necessary steps towards operation of the Keystone Pipeline," Adams wrote in March 2013 while promoting his bill. Rep. Rosenberger, the other Ohio legislator on the ALEC trip to Alberta, accordingly co-sponsored the Adams bill.

According to documents CMD obtained from public record requests in Ohio, a draft bill was sent to Adams on January 23, from Steve Dimon of 21 Consulting LLC, who represents TransCanada. The bill was sent as an attachment to the Dimon email.

The email message itself simply read, "Thank you so much!"

Dimon stayed in touch with Adams' office over the proceeding months, providing his staff with further materials about Keystone XL, including a set of talking points stamped with the TransCanada logo.

By February 14, Adams had an updated draft that had been reviewed by the Ohio legislative service commission, the non-partisan body that assists legislators with drafting legislation. Adams staffer Ryan Crawford sent this language to Rob Eshenbaugh, a lobbyist with Ohio Petroleum Council, the state affiliate of the American Petroleum Institute. "Please let me know if I can be of further assistance," Crawford wrote to the lobbyist. Eshenbaugh responded with some requested changes, which Crawford then incorporated into the bill.

All this occurred prior to Adams sharing the bill with his fellow legislators, which didn't happen until February 20. Adams finally introduced his bill in the Ohio Assembly on March 9, without any public statement about his involvement with the ALEC Academy or that the source of the bill was a tar sands lobbyist.

The route of the proposed KXL pipeline takes it through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. This is a long way from Ohio, but the debate over the KXL project has become a national issue. The ALEC Academy, and subsequent lobbying from the oil-industry, demonstrates that TransCanada sees value in developing a list of states supportive of the project to influence the federal debate over KXL approval.

The precise details of the ALEC tour, including the trip being part-sponsored by TransCanada, are not mentioned in Adams’ financial disclosures, which only reports his expenses as being from ALEC and the Alberta Government. Adams is not breaking the law here. This is because of the way ALEC works to fund legislator travel. Its scholarship system allows corporations to “sponsor” legislator’s expenses, which are then simply disclosed as being a payment from "ALEC" and not from the sponsoring corporations or groups. CMD documented the ALEC scholarship fund in a 2012 report released jointly with Common Cause: "How the American Legislative Exchange Council Uses Corporate-Funded “Scholarships” to Send Lawmakers on Trips with Corporate Lobbyists."

Graduates of the Keystone Academy appear to be learning a lot about how ALEC works behind the scenes to promote special interest legislation while keeping the public entirely in the dark.

Yes Men "Mourn" U.S. Chamber's dropped lawsuit against them

The Yes Men outside the US Chamber of Commerce, expressing disappointment over the dropped lawsuit against them.

Crossposted from Greenpeace's The Witness.

Shenanigans at the front door of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce yesterday reveal that the Chamber has dropped its lawsuit against the Yes Men, the activist duo famous for their elaborate prime-time pranks against Dow Chemical, Chevron, the World Trade Organization, and other giant entities known for putting their profit margins before people and the planet.

The Yes Men went to the Chamber yesterday morning in attempts to convince the business front group not to drop the lawsuit. Here's some footage of the announcement and confusion over who does and doesn't work for the Chamber:

That's right. The Yes Men want to be sued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. According to their press release:

"Just as their case against us was finally heating up again, the Chamber decided to drop it," said former defendant Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men. "The Chamber knew this was our chance to challenge their silly claims and, since they claimed we had 'damaged' them, investigate the details of their finances through the discovery process. It's the height of rudeness to deprive us of this great opportunity." "The Chamber's lawsuit represented the only time in 17 years that anyone has been stupid enough to sue us," said former defendant Mike Bonanno. "This was the chance of a lifetime, and we profoundly deplore the Chamber's about-face."

Apparently, revenge isn't a strong enough reason for the Chamber to to cough up information on their secret financial backers or their obstruction on solving the critical issue of global climate change, the issue which sparked the original Yes Men parody press event and ensuing lawsuit. The Chamber sued the Yes Men in 2009 for holding a press conference at the National Press Club on the Chamber's behalf, announcing a reversal on the Chamber's efforts to block climate change legislation. The false event was interrupted by an actual Chamber official named Eric Wohlschlegal, who told attending press, "This guy is a fake! He's lying!" See this video:

The stunt threw the Chamber off balance as it had to clarify it would not stop obstructing national climate change policy. The following lawsuit was unprecedented for Yes Men hijinks. Even Dow Chemical didn't sue them, despite losing $2 billion worth of stock when Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum posed as a Dow official on a live BBC interview and took responsibility for the Bhopal chemical disaster (which Dow still won't own up to despite the death of 20,000 people). Yes Lab has a summary of the announcement at the Chamber's front steps in Washington, DC, including a list of questions the Yes Men wish the lawsuit's discovery process could have answered:

Some of the things we could have asked in court had they not withdrawn their lawsuit:
  • Why does the U.S. Chamber lie even more than the American Petroleum Institute about the number of jobs created by the Keystone XL pipeline?
  • Why did the U.S. Chamber design a teaching program for US schools that favors coal over clean energy sources?
  • And who pays them to lie to children... and adults?
  • Why does the U.S. Chamber expend so much money to call into doubt the most mainstream climate science, and insult the most respected scientific bodies?
  • Why does the U.S. Chamber fight not only unions, but even just shareholder activists?
  • Why do they fight even tiny increases in the federal minimum wage?
  • Why has the U.S. Chamber's law firm hired spies in try to discredit anti-Chamber activists?
  • And finally, why is the U.S. Chamber fighting so hard to keep corporations from having to reveal their political spending?

PolluterWatch has more on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its anti-environmental practices.

New Documents show Exxon knew of contamination from the Maryflower oil spill, still claimed lake was "oil-free"

On March 29 ExxonMobil, the most profitable company in the world, spilled at least 210,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil from an underground pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas. The pipeline was carrying tar sands oil from Canada, which flooded family residences in Mayflower in thick tarry crude. Exxon’s tar sands crude also ran into Lake Conway, which sits about an eighth of a mile from where Exxon’s pipeline ruptured.

The cove of Lake Conway which Exxon claimed was "oil-free"

A new batch of documents received by Greenpeace in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has revealed that Exxon downplayed the extent of the contamination caused by the ruptured pipeline. Records of emails between Arkansas’ DEQ and Exxon depict attempts by Exxon to pass off press releases with factually false information. In a draft press release dated April 8, Exxon claims "Tests on water samples show Lake Conway and the cove are oil-free." However, internal emails from April 6 show Exxon knew of significant contamination across Lake Conway and the cove resulting from the oil spill.

When the chief of Arkansas Hazardous Waste division called Exxon out on this falsehood, Exxon amended the press release. However, they did not amend it to say that oil was in Lake Conway and contaminant levels in the lake were rising to dangerous levels, as they knew to be the case. Instead, they continue to claim that Lake Conway is "oil-free." For the record, Exxon maintains that the "cove," a section of Lake Conway that experienced heavy oiling from the spill, is not part of the actual lake. Exxon maintains this distinction in spite of Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel saying unequivocally "The cove is part of Lake Conway…The water is all part of one body of water." Furthermore, Exxon water tests confirmed that levels of Benzene and other contaminants rose throughout the lake, not just in the cove area.

Though Exxon was eventually forced to redact their claim that the cove specifically was  "oil-free," the oil and gas giant has yet to publicly address the dangerous levels of Benzene and other contaminants their own tests have found in the body of Lake Conway. The Environmental Protection Agency and the American Petroleum Institute don’t agree on everything, but they do agree that the only safe level of Benzene, a cancer causing chemical found in oil, is zero. Benzene is added to tar sands oil to make it less viscous and flow more easily through pipelines.  Local people have reported fish kills, chemical smells, nausea and headaches. Independent water tests have found a host of contaminants present in the lake.

Dead fish in Palarm creek, which Lake Conway drains into. Palarm creek is a tributary of the Arkansas River.

According to Exxon’s data, 126,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil from the pipeline spill is still unaccounted for.

Exxon's spill emanated from the Pegasus Pipeline, which like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, connects the Canadian Tar Sands with refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Four Oil Spills in One Week: Exxon's Arkansas Tar Sands spill one of many

As many people who watch the oil industry know, oil spills are not avoidable, preventable, or unlikely. From extraction to combustion, oil is a destructive and dirty business, based on sacrificing the health of environments and peoples for corporate profits.

Smoke pours from an Exxon Oil Refinery after an explosion in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1989

This fact was especially evident last week, when Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline spilled over 150,000 gallons of toxic tar sands crude oil into Lake Conway and adjoining neighborhoods in Mayflower, Arkansas.

Exxon's tar sands spill in Mayflower, Arkansas

However, Exxon’s Mayflower spill is not an isolated incident. In fact, there were three other significant oil spills that occurred last week.

The spills, which were the result of both train derailments and pipeline ruptures, spilled many hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic crude oil in and around neighborhoods, marshes, and rivers.

March 26 - Train Derailment in Minnesota - 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilled

Last week's cacophony of oil industry irresponsibility began with a train derailment in Minnesota, which spilled 30,000 gallons of crude oil. The oil was from Canada which has become a top exporter of crude to the United States because of their exploitation of the tar sands in Alberta.

aerial view of the Alberta Tar Sands

In a fit of ill-timed opportunism, supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would pump tar sands oil from Canada to the gulf coast, used this this spill as a justification for building the tar sands pipeline. A spokesman for North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, who has been one of the chief political proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, had this to say:

"It should be clear that we need to move more oil by pipeline rather than by rail or truck...This is why we need the Keystone XL. Pipelines are both safe and efficient."

March, 29 - Lake Conoway, Arkansas - 156,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil spilled

In an incident that should make anyone question the "safety and efficiency" of oil pipelines, Exxon’s Pegasus Pipeline spilled 157,000 gallons of tar sands crude into Lake Conway and surrounding neighborhoods in Arkansas. Since the spill, Exxon has limited press access to the spill site, oiled animals, and even the skies above the spill area. Exxon has even claimed that Lake Conway has been unaffected by the oil spill, though Arkansas Attorney General Dustin Mcdaniel has set that particular record straight.

"Of course there's oil in Lake Conway"

Mcdaniels said.

Arkansas Pipeline Spill
Exxon's tar sands oil spills into a cove of Lake Conway, Arkansas

April, 3 - Houston, Texas - 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilled

Four days after Exxon's Pegasus pipeline ruptured and seven days after Keystone XL pipeline proponents claimed "pipelines are both safe and efficient," a Shell pipeline running through a bayou outside of Houston spilled 30,000 gallons of oil into the Texas marsh. The actual amount of oil spilled by Shell's West Columbia Pipeline is still unknown, as the cause of the leak has not been released by Shell.

 

April, 3 - White River, Ontario - 16,642 gallons of crude oil spilled

At the same time that Shell was spewing oil into the wetlands of Texas, a train derailment in White River, Ontario was leaking oil in Canada. Most people know White River as the original home of Winnie the Pooh, but it is also a major train depot for shipping crude oil. The company responsible claimed that 4 barrels of oil were spilled, though the actual number turned out to be 10 times larger, at 400 barrels. That's 16,642 gallons of toxic crude oil. Sorry Winnie.

As the oil industry proved this week, they are incapable of protecting people and the environment from their product. As Micheal Brune of Sierra Club said:

"In Ontario, the company said it spilled four barrels when it had actually spilled 400. In Arkansas, Exxon learned about the spill from a homeowner but kept pumping tar sands crude into the neighborhood for 45 minutes, and is bullying reporters who want to tell the public what's going on. In Texas, a major oil spill came to light that Shell had been denying for days. Transporting toxic crude oil -- and tar sands in particular -- is inherently dangerous, more so because oil companies care about profit, not public safety. This is why Keystone XL, at nine times the size of the Arkansas Pegasus pipeline, must never be built.”

If built, the Keystone XL pipeline will spill. Stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

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