state department

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

  • Posted on: 21 March 2013
  • By: JesseColeman

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?

 

Industry: 

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

  • Posted on: 22 July 2013
  • By: JesseColeman

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.

Company or Organization: 

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

  • Posted on: 8 July 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

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.

Industry: 

Hillary Clinton's Keystone XL Crony Lobbyists Problem

  • Posted on: 10 October 2011
  • By: Connor Gibson

Written by Brendan DeMelle, crossposted from DeSmogBlog.

Hillary Clinton and the State Department have the final word on whether to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, unless President Obama intervenes. The influence of tar sands industry lobbyists connected to Hillary Clinton is finally getting some media attention, but there is still more to this story.

Clinton's State Department is finally complying with a FOIA request for documents, after a lawsuit filed in May by three watchdog groups over an alleged lack of transparency regarding contacts with TransCanada lobbyist Paul Elliott, a former staffer on Hillary Clinton's presidential run. Elliott has earned at least $310,000 as TransCanada Pipelines’ in-house lobbyist to influence Congress and several federal agencies, including the State Department, on the Keystone XL pipeline.

However, the tar sands industry’s use of former Clinton associates to lobby on the controversial project extends beyond Mr. Elliott. DeSmogBlog has uncovered seven other influencers or lobbyists with ties to Clinton and Obama who have lobbied on behalf of tar sands interests for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.  

These lobbyists are spread out over three firms, including one that was the largest single source of funds of any corporate entity to Clinton’s 2008 presidential run. Included in their midst is a lobbyist with close ties to top Obama adviser David Plouffe, and a former Koch Industries operative now lobbying for the Koch-friendly Keystone XL project.


The extent of the contacts between these lobbyists and Secretary Clinton, or her political appointee-led staff, remains to be determined. Today, **Earthjustice, representing** Friends of the Earth, Corporate Ethics International and the Center for International Environmental Law, filed an amended FOIA request asking the State Department to release all contacts between this web of lobbying firms and her department. The groups credited DeSmogBlog's research as the impetus for the revised FOIA request. 


The presence of so many former Clinton associates on the lobbying roster for polluter clients on a high-profile controversy suggests a clash with the repeated campaign pledges of greater transparency and tougher dealings with lobbyists by Secretary Clinton’s boss, President Obama. 

On the campaign trail, Obama contrasted his view of lobbyists with the view of his opponent, Senator John McCain

“This is somebody who’s been in Congress for twenty-six years, who put seven of the most powerful Washington lobbyists in charge of his campaign, and now he tells us that he’s the one who will take on the ol' boy network,”Obama said before a crowd in Elko, Nev. "The ol’ boy network? In the McCain campaign, that’s called a staff meeting," Obama said. 
TransCanada Corp's permit request for the Keystone XL network of long-distance pipes represents a clear test of those pledges of transparency and a less cozy relationship with corporate lobbyists. The proposed pipeline would shuttle what is described as the dirtiest oil on the planet – Canada’s tar sands crude – to petroleum refineries on the Gulf Coast. Ultimately, much of the oil will be shipped overseas to foreign markets, undermining claims that this project would boost U.S. energy security.

The lack of disclosure about contacts with lobbyists regarding the Keystone XL builds upon growing questions about the Obama Administration’s commitment to open government, particularly on environmental issues. DeSmogBlog has cataloged the Obama Administration’s failure to report contacts with lobbyists on several key climate and energy matters, including coal ash regulations and the BP disaster. Now let's take a closer look at tar sands lobbyists.

 

WEB OF TAR SANDS LOBBYISTS TIED TO CLINTON/OBAMA

Below is a description of the influence peddling firms and lobbyists that DeSmogBlog has identified as having close connections to Hillary Clinton and President Obama that are working to convince the State Department to approve Keystone XL.

McKenna Long & Aldridge is one of the key outside firms registered to lobby for TransCanada Pipelines, which paid the McKenna firm at least $190,000 over the last 5 years to lobby on their pipeline issues, including $40,000 in the first half of 2011. McKenna employees donated $41,650 in campaign contributions to Hillary Clinton in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In addition, McKenna lobbies for the Canadian American Business Council, which has played a major public relations role on behalf of the Keystone XL project. McKenna lobbyist Maryscott “Scotty” Greenwood is Senior Advisor (and former Executive Director) at the CABC, which is now headed up by another McKenna associate. 
UPDATE Oct 6, noon EST: Guess who serves on the Board of Directors of the Canadian American Business Council? Paul Elliott. (Also, Susan Carter, the ExxonMobil executive on the recipient list of Scotty Greenwood's email referenced below. Small world.)

McKenna Long & Aldridge lobbies for Nexen Inc., a company with present growth strategies that include “oil sands, including our 65% operated interest in the Long Lake project.” Nexen has paid McKenna over $1.8 million since 2007 in lobbying fees. Talisman, another major energy company in Canada, has paid McKenna $90,000 over the last two years for lobbying. 

Frank McKenna, the first-named principle of McKenna Long & Aldridge, served as Canadian ambassador to the U.S. from 2005-6. [Correction: Frank McKenna has no affiliation with McKenna Long & Aldridge. I regret the error.]

Gordon Giffin, a partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge, served as U.S. Ambassador to Canada during the Clinton administration (1997 to 2001), and was a key fundraiser and donor to Hillary Clinton’s Senate and White House campaigns. Giffin was one of 22 “Bundlers for Hillary Clinton who have registered as Federal Lobbyists” cataloged by Public Citizen. He’s also been a donor to Bill Clinton’s campaigns and the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation.  Giffin sits on the boards of four Canadian companies, including Canadian Natural Resources Limited, a major tar sands player.

Maryscott “Scotty” Greenwood, another McKenna lobbyist, was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as Chief of Staff to Gordon Giffin when he was U.S. ambassador to Canada.  Considered by The Hill Times as one of the “Top 100 Most Influential People in Government and Politics in 2010,” Greenwood is valued by McKenna for her ability to reach Secretary Clinton on the phone, according to a biography on the firm's principal Frank McKenna: “Because of her up attitude and the jobs she has held, [Scotty Greenwood] can get through on the phone to virtually anyone of influence within the US Democratic ranks, including the likes of U.S. secretary of the state Hillary Clinton.”

Greenwood was a member of the important Credentials Committee at the 2008 Democratic Convention - the committee appointed by Chairman Howard Dean that was responsible for deciding how to handle Hillary Clinton's delegate challenges. She was also the Executive Director of the Georgia Democratic Party, where she met Giffin.

Giffin lobbied officially on TransCanada’s behalf until 2008 on "U.S. pipeline permit policy," and
Greenwood lobbied officially for TransCanada from 2007 until as recently as Q1 2010 on the same issues. Since then, they seem to have handed the official lobbying reins to juniors and now serve as advisors. But their Clinton connections raise important questions about their possible influence over her decision regarding the Keystone XL pipeline. 

Indeed, one of the emails obtained by FOE et al in their FOIA request shows Scotty Greenwood emailing news that "Sen Lugar calls for approval of KXL" to Gordon Giffin, Paul Elliott, Marja Verloop and an ExxonMobil lobbyist. (See pg 137 of this PDF)

David Pollak joined McKenna as a “Senior Strategic Advisor” in August 2009. Pollack served as Co-Chairman of the New York State Democratic Party from 2006 – 2008, and was a Hillary Clinton Super-Delegate.

In May 2010, McKenna Long & Aldridge hired Alex McGee, who previously worked for Koch Industries as the Director of Federal Affairs for Koch Companies Public Sector (KCPS). Prior to that, he spent five years as the Department of Energy's (DOE) Principal Deputy Assistant
Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs. McGee’s bio claims he was “a strategic player in the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.” McGee now lobbies on behalf of TransCanada.

Bryan Cave LLP reported earnings of $1.08 million between 2009-2011 lobbying on behalf of TransCanada, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Bryan Cave staff reported lobbying the State Department directly about the Keystone XL Pipeline. 

Broderick Johnson, a former Bryan Cave LLP lobbyist registered on the Keystone XL account, reported lobbying President Obama’s legislative affairs staff in 2010, a post he’s familiar with, having served in the Clinton administration in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs from 1998-2000. He was named deputy assistant to the president and House liaison, acting as the Clinton administration’s primary advocate before the U.S. House of Representatives in 1999 and 2000. 

Jeff Berman is listed as another Bryan Cave lobbyist on the Keystone XL account who reports lobbying the State Department and the President’s office. Berman, a friend of David Plouffe, has been referred to as the “unsung hero” of Barack Obama’s 2008 primary victory over Hillary Clinton. According to TalkingPointsMemo coverage, “Berman’s in-depth understanding of every state and every congressional district drove the campaigning strategy that Plouffe laid out.”

DLA PIPER employees and PACs contributed $480,150 to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 run, making it the largest single source of funds for a corporate entity to Clinton

DLA PIPER partner James Blanchard, a former Governor of Michigan, served as Michigan Chairman of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, and was rewarded by President Clinton with the post of U.S. ambassador to Canada (1993-96).  He also was a key fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. According to Public Citizen, Blanchard was one of 22 “Bundlers for Hillary Clinton who have registered as Federal Lobbyists.”

The government of Alberta retained Blanchard to lobby Washington last year. According to lobbying disclosure records reviewed by Climate Action Network Canada (p. 9), Blanchard and other DLA Piper lobbyists had more than 80 interactions with U.S. officials and politicians in the year beginning March 1, 2009, on behalf of the Government of Alberta. Blanchard alone billed over $300,000 in fees.

Blanchard sits on the board of major tar sands pipeline company Enbridge, which spilled roughly 20,000 barrels of oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River last year, and tried to hide the fact that the spill involved tar sands crude. Enbridge's pipelines move the lion's share of tar sands crude into the U.S.

Conclusion
The web of tar sands lobbyist cronies with ties to Hillary Clinton pressuring the State Department to approve Keystone XL shows that President Obama must take personal responsibility for the transparency and objectivity of this permit decision. It appears that Secretary Clinton is too compromised by this web of polluter influence peddlers from her past to say no to Keystone XL.

Saying no to this filthy tar sands pipeline is the only viable option for President Obama, who campaigned not only on a platform of strong climate action and ending our oil addiction, but also for transparency and minimizing the role of corporate lobbyists in policy decisions.  

Right now, the State Department’s capitulation to lobbyists – and secrecy about Secretary Clinton’s contacts with lobbyists  – stinks to high heaven, as the recently released emails demonstrate. Hopefully this amended FOIA request will compel the State Department to reveal all the facts about lobbyist influence over Hillary Clinton’s position on Keystone XL.

 

DeSmogBlog's Emma Pullman contributed research to this report.
** Clarification added to note that Earthjustice, which represents the environmental groups, filed the amended FOIA today on their behalf.