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Super Bowl Friday Trash Dump: State Dept Releases KXL Final Environmental Review

4:16 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Protest at Whitehouse. Sign: Stop the Keystone Pipeline Project

Feds release a final report on Keystone XL’s safety when no one’s looking.

The State Department has released the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the proposed northern leg of the controversial and long-embattled TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

In a familiar “Friday trash dump” — a move many expected the Obama administration to shun — John Kerry’s State Department chose to “carefully stage-manage the report’s release” on Super Bowl Friday when most Americans are switching focus to football instead of political scandals.

Anticipating the report’s release, insiders who had been briefed on the review told Bloomberg News the SEIS — not a formal decision by the State Department on the permitting of the pipeline, but rather another step in the department’s information gathering — “will probably disappoint environmental groups and opponents of the Keystone pipeline.”

And, indeed, the new report reads:

Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States.

This reiterates one of the earlier draft’s most heavily criticized conclusions that the pipeline is “unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands,” and thus avoids a comprehensive assessment of those climate impacts.

In June 2013, President Obama said in a speech announcing his Climate Action Plan at Georgetown University that he would only approve the permit if it was proven that “this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

The final environmental review is being released on the heels of damning revelations about the close ties between the Canadian pipeline builder, TransCanada and Environmental Resources Management (ERM). ERM was hired by the State Department to conduct the environmental review.

According to documents obtained by the Sierra Club via Freedom of Information Act requests, TransCanada actually recommended ERM to conduct the study, and claimed, falsely, that the two companies had not worked together before.

Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica did not mince words in his reaction to the State Department’s new report, telling the National Journal, ”The State Department’s environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline is a farce. Since the beginning of the assessment, the oil industry has had a direct pipeline into the agency.”

ERM Group: A History Tied to API

Over the past two years, DeSmogBlog has published a number of articles documenting controversial projects — in Peru, the Caspian SeaDelaware and Alaska – that the ERM Group has approved. In each case the projects have been permitted and have eventually resulted in spills or severe environmental damage.

ERM Group is a dues-paying member of the American Petroleum Institute, which has spent over $22 million lobbying on behalf of Keystone XL.

Timing of the Release

The Final SEIS also precedes a heavily anticipated State Department Inspector General’s report addressing these potential conflicts-of-interest between TransCanada, ERM and the State Department, as has been covered here on DeSmogBlog. It also occurs on a Friday afternoon before the Super Bowl, with attention of much of the American public diverted.

Environmental groups and opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline were surprised by the timing and suddenness of the report’s release. The surprise was not shared by supporters of the pipeline.

For days, industry reps have been claiming that the SEIS would be released this week. The loudest voice was that of Jack Gerard, chief executive of the American Petroleum Institute (API), who speaking to Reuters last week said, “It’s our expectation it will be released next week,” citing sources within the administration.

ERM Group is a dues-paying member of API. Of this clear conflict and the timing of the release, Steve Kretzmann of Oil Change International wrote:

Jack Gerard was apparently briefed by ‘sources within the Administration’ on the timing and content of the report. Before the environmental community. Before Congress. Before anyone else.

If that doesn’t prove once and for all what a corrupt process this has been, I don’t know what will. The oil industry, which has had this process rigged since the word go, are the first to know, because of their cozy and corrupt role in this process.

Green Groups Respond

Jim Murphy of National Wildlife Federation asked this of the decision before the State Department:
Read the rest of this entry →

State Dept’s Keystone XL Contractor, ERM Group, Also OK’d Controversial Pebble Mine in Alaska

2:22 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

ERM has always been able to turn a blind eye to serious environmental impacts.

DeSmogBlog investigation has revealed Environmental Resources Management Inc. (ERM Group) — the contractor performing the U.S. State Department’s environmental review for the northern half of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline — gave the greenlight to Alaska’s controversial Pebble Mine proposal in June 2013.

The proposed Pebble Mine, located in Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska, contains mineable gold and copper. It’s also a major hub for fishing and the seafood industry, leading the Center for American Progress to call the battle over Pebble Mine a “resource war.”

“Bristol Bay…is home to the world’s largest commercial sockeye salmon fishery,” explains a November 2013 EarthWorks blog post. ”The devastation caused by a massive open pit mine would linger in perpetuity affecting not just Bristol Bay, but the commercial fishing industry everywhere in the Pacific Northwest.”

Like the Pebble Mine review, ERM’s review for the northern half of the U.S.-Canada border-crossing Keystone XL pipeline concluded the pipeline would have negligible environmental impacts.

EPA Tackles Pebble Mine, Keystone XL

Another thread tying Keystone XL and Pebble Mine together: in both cases, ERM Group’s environmental assessment flew in the face of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) assessment. In April 2013, the EPA critiqued ERM Group’s Keystone XL environmental review, while the EPA published a damning environmental review of Pebble Mine on January 15.

“The report concludes that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses risks to salmon, wildlife, and Native American cultures,” explains an EPA fact sheet published summarizing the study. “Bristol Bay supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, producing nearly 50 percent of the world’s wild sockeye with runs averaging 37.5 million fish each year.”

ERM scolded the EPA for not taking a balanced approach on Pebble Mine, not looking into the “positive effects” it would create if it opens for business.

“[EPA did not take] into account the positive effects of cash income from employment on a community’s overall subsistence-gathering capabilities, as well as, harvest-sharing capabilities,” wrote ERM. “Overall, the Assessment lacks discussion of potential positive effects associated with industrial development.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) didn’t toe the ERM party line, though.

“Wrong mine, wrong place, too big,” Begich said in a January 19 interview with the Anchorage Daily News. “Too many potential long-term impacts to a fishery that is pretty critical to that area but also to Alaska, to world markets. I think it will harm the environment, harm the salmon, harm the jobs that are connected to the fisheries industry out there.”

“A Polluted Process”

As documented previously here on DeSmogBlog, ERM has also green-lighted other projects with ecologically unsavory track records. These have ranged from an explosive pipeline project in the Caspian Sea to a contentious LNG project in Peru to a toxic tar sands refinery in Delaware.

All of these projects were met with backlash from environmentalists, but eventually received the customary ERM rubber stamp.

Some members of the U.S. House of Representatives have called ERM’s Keystone XL northern half environmental review into question, though.

Led by U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), 24 House Democrats sent a letter to President Obama on December 12 saying he shouldn’t green light the northern half of the pipeline until the State Department’s Office of Inspector General finishes its probe into how ERM Group was chosen and why. It’s what Friends of the Earth has called a “a polluted process.”

“The Department of State apparently overlooked these conflicts when it accepted Environmental Resources Management’s (ERM) bid to perform the analysis,” reads the letter. “Because of the seriousness of the conflicts…we believe no EIS from the company – draft or final – should be accepted by the administration before these issues are resolved.”

One thing is clear as Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama head into decision-making time on Keystone XL’s northern half: ERM has always been able to turn a blind eye to serious environmental impacts. Now it’s up to Obama and Kerry to avoid falling into the same trap. Read the rest of this entry →

Obama’s Former PR Flack: Thread Tying Keystone XL, PA Gov’s Race Together

10:11 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Pennsylvania Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate and former head of the PA Department of Environmental Protection, Kathleen “Katie” McGinty, has hired powerful PR firm SKDKnickerbocker for her campaign’s communications efforts.

Katie McGinty hired powerful PR firm SKDKnickerbocker

SKDKnickerbocker – once known as Squier Knapp Dunn - is co-owned by President Barack Obama’s former Communications Director Anita Dunn and a member of Obama’s national media team for his 2008 run for President, Bill Knapp. Both Dunn and Knapp previously did PR for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s 2004 run for President, as well.

One of SKDKnickerbocker’s key clients is TransCanada, owner of the Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline.

Another key SKDKnickerbocker client: Association of American Railroads, that industry’s version of the American Petroleum Institute. Rail is an increasingly viable alternative to pipelines for bringing tar sands - and fracked oil - to market.

Both McGinty and Dunn also have key marital connections with skin in the game for the looming decision over the prospective northern half of Keystone XL: Karl Hausker and Robert “Bob” Bauer, respectively.

Like Husband, Like Wife

Hausker is the former Vice President of ICF International, one of the three contractors chosen by TransCanada to do the now hotly contested U.S. State Department Keystone XL environmental review.

ICF and the more-publicized Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group)concluded that Keystone XL’s northern half would have negligible climate change impacts. Keystone XL’s southern half - TransCanada’s Gulf Coast Pipeline - is 95-percent built and ready to send 700,000 barrels a day of tar sands from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas by year’s end.

A previous DeSmog investigation also revealed Hausker and McGinty have myriad ties to the controversial horizontal drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), both at the federal and state level.

Bauer is President Obama’s personal attorney, former White House Counsel and Obama’s election law attorney for the 2008 and 2012 elections, as well as John Kerry’s 2004 election law attorney. Best known for bending election law to help corporations flood electoral races with more and more money, the private law firm he works at – Perkins Coie – has an attorney-client relationship with TransCanada in Alaska.

Pennsylvania’s Fracked!

The top three front-runners for governor in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial campaign are all fracking cheerleaders: McGinty; DEP head after McGinty, Democrat John Hanger; and the incumbent, Republican Tom Corbett.

McGinty currently works for the shale gas industry as a business partner of Ed Rendell’s at Element Partners, which provides investment capital to shale gas industry start-ups.

She also sat on the industry-stacked U.S. Department of Energy Fracking Subcommittee, which penned the fracking chemical disclosure standards that would eventually become an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill and part of President Obama’s Department of Interior’s rules for fracking on public lands.

John Hanger – a key character in Gasland - has increasingly become a fracking apologist since leaving the DEP when Corbett won the 2010 election. So much so, in fact, he was interviewed for the Energy In Depth-produced propaganda film, Truthland.

Last winter, Hanger penned an article criticizing DeSmog‘s coverage of the shale gas bubble, and he recently wrote a telling piece for The Guardian titled, “If you care about the environment, you should welcome natural gas fracking.” Telling because Cornell University scientists have discovered fracking is dirtier than coal production when measured over its entire lifecycle.

And under Corbett, Pennsylvania has more or less become a “banana republic” run by a “Banana Republican,” with the industry running roughshod over rural communities left and right with little accountability – nay, rewarded for doing so. Corbett raised over $1.8 million from the frackers for his 2010 electoral campaign and the same is likely in the cards for 2014.

To put it bluntly and succinctly: Pennsylvania’s fracked. Which means at the end of the day, we all are. Read the rest of this entry →

Fracking’s Myriad Ties to Greenwashed State Dept Keystone XL Environmental Review

8:04 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Most don’t think of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) when pondering the future of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline - but they should.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exhibit AKathryn “Katie” Klaber, departing head of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, one of the most powerful gas industry lobby groups in the US.

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

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

Read the rest of this entry →

Bogus State Department Keystone XL Climate Study the Basis of David Petraeus’ CUNY Seminar

1:24 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Portrait of David Petraeus

The ongoing adventures of David Petraeus, frackademic.

Former CIA-head David Petraeus’ City University of New York (CUNY) Macaulay Honors College seminar readings include several prominent Big Oil-funded “frackademia” studies, a recent DeSmogBlog investigation revealed.

Further digging into records obtained via New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) also reveals “a survey of the global economy to set the stage for the course” – as stated in an email from Petraeus to an unknown source due to redaction – utilizes the U.S. State Department’s Keystone XL environmental review written by Environmental Resources Management (ERM Group) to argue that Transcanada’s tar sands export pipeline deserves approval.

“[Redacted], atttached is a document that my Harvard researchers and I put together for the seminar I’ll lead at Macaulay Honors College of CUNY,” wrote Petraeus in the email. “It is intended to be a survey of the global economy to set the stage for the course…[It] will have considerable value, I think, for the undergrads in the course.”

The “Global Economy” survey was penned on behalf of Petraeus by Vivek Chilukuri, one of Petraeus’ researchers at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Public Policy, where Petraeus sits as a Non-Resident Fellow. Chilukuri serves as Editor-in-Chief for the Harvard Journal of Middle Eastern Politics & Policy, and worked for Obama For America before the 2008 election.

It was at the Harvard Kennedy School where all of Petraeus’ troubles began. His biographer, Paula Broadwell, whom he had an affair with, met Petraeus while a Harvard graduate student, a scandal that ultimately drove him out of the CIA.

His CIA departure landed Petraeus his current gigs on Wall Street at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) and as an adjunct professor at CUNY Honors College and University of Southern California - and coming full circle – back at Harvard, where the spool began to unravel.

Petraeus’ seminar survey includes an implied endorsement of industry-written fracking chemical disclosure via President Obama’s industry-stacked Energy Department Fracking Subcommittee, and the mythical “clean coal” – otherwise known as carbon capture and sequestration, as well as a cap-and-trade scheme that would include carbon trading of emissions from dirty coal plants for even dirtier shale gas production.

Petraeus’ Keystone XL Endorsement: No Mention of Men Behind Curtain

A call for the approval of Keystone XL’s northern half – the southern half is almost fully built via a March 2012 Obama Administration Executive Order - appears in the “Proposed Policies, Programs, Practices, Laws & Regulations” portion of Petraeus’ seminar survey. One of the proposed policy prongs: “accelerate domestic energy production consistent with environmental concerns.”

Prong “A” of “energy production consistent with environmental concerns,” according to the syllabus? “Authorize Keystone XL project given State Department’s favorable report,” states the survey.

Key context about the “favorable report” completely lacking from the course survey: it was written by API dues-paying member Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group). Since the June 2008 proposal of Keystone XL, API has spent over $22 million lobbying for it.

ERM Group was chosen by TransCanada to do the report with the blessing of the State Department, and may have committed a federal crime by lying on its conflict-of-interest form when it said it did not have an ongoing business relationship with Transcanada. In fact, ERM has ongoing business ties with Transcanada in Alaska, contrary to what it said on its conflict-of-interest form, and is helping the company’s attempt to recieve approval of its South Central LNG pipeline project.

Beyond its claims that Keystone XL will have negligible environmental impacts, ERM has also given the “environmentally sound” rubberstamp to a Delaware tar sands refinery project, a Caspian Sea-area pipeline project and a Peruvian pipeline project. All of these projects ended up having negative impacts on the environment.

None of this information of “considerable value” will likely be included in Petraeus’ seminar, but ERM’s Keystone XL environmental review for the State Department will be one of the readings on his syllabus.

FracFocus Façade, “Embedded Environmentalists”

Prongs “B” and “C” of the energy portion of Petraeus’ overview of the global economy pertain to the controversial and ecologically toxic hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process for oil and gas embedded deep within shale rock basins.

Read the rest of this entry →

State Dept Keystone XL Environmental Reviewer Claimed Delaware Tar Sands Refinery Made Air Cleaner

8:07 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

DeSmogBlog investigation reveals Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group), the contractor that performed the environmental review for TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline, was also recently hired by a major Delaware City refinery to study air quality around the plant.

This “study” was funded by the refinery itself, owned by Delaware City Refining Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of PBF Energy. Delaware City Refinery is the recipient of 180,000 barrels per day of fracked oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale along with oil extracted from Alberta’s tar sands - both referred to as the “holy grail” by the Refinery’s owner at a Feb. 2013 meeting - which sojourn eastward via mile-long freight rail cars owned by Norfolk Southern.

Conducted in March 2013, the study concluded the “air quality [near the refinery] is as good as, and in some cases, better than samples taken during the 2011 study before the refinery restart,” as explained on a flyer obtained by DeSmog promoting two public meetings hosted by ERM to discuss results.

However, an independent air sample study detected the cancer-causing compound benzene far above levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as soot and sulfur dioxide, in an area one mile from the refinery.

ERM Group – a dues-paying member of American Petroleum Institute (API), which hasspent over $22 million lobbying on tar sands and Keystone XL since its June 2008 proposal – said that because Alberta’s tar sands will get to market with or without Keystone XL, the tube’s northern half “is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of [tar sands] development.”

Under that logic, Keystone XL – which President Obama said in in the Climate Action Plan he will only approve if it doesn’t “significantly exacerbate…carbon pollution” – won’t have a “substantial impact” on climate change. That could mean “game on” for the pipeline.

Yet Another Illegal ERM Group Lie

This latest discovery proves – once again – that ERM Group lied on its conflict-of-interest form which it submitted to the State Department, claiming it has no ”direct or indirect relationship (financial, organizational, contractual or otherwise) with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work.”

The false claim – given ERM’s current ties to the Alaska Gas Pipeline Project, the Delaware City Refinery and the refinery’s direct relationship with tar sands refining and marketing - may violate 18 USC § 1001. That law says making a “materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation…[to the] executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States” is a crime punishable by up to five years in jail.

Friends of the Earth and the Checks & Balances Project have called for a full-throttle State Department Inspector General investigation into the contractual relationship between ERM Group and the State Department.

The false contractual claim is far from the only tall tale ERM told.

Independent Air Studies, Citizen Anecdotes Fly in Face of ERM Study

study released by Delaware City Environmental Coalition in late-May - just weeks before ERM’s study was released – came to diametrically opposite conclusions as ERM Group’s refinery-funded effort.

“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,” explained The News Journal.

Beyond the study itself, many individuals have anecdotes of how the refinery has impacted their lives and how quality of life was better before the plant reopened in 2011, when PBF Energy purchased the refinery from Valero for $220 million after it was idled for one year.

“I can tell you that the year the plant was shuttered, I did not suffer from my normal seasonal sinus condition in the same manner that I have both before and after,” Delaware City citizen Kristina Lynn told DeSmogBlog in an interview.

“While it is a seasonal allergy that causes my pain, it was nearly absent that year. The town was quiet, no smells, even the sky looked bluer. No rumblings, it was so quiet at night I could hear a horse neigh on a farm a half mile away. I had never heard that before.”

Another Delaware City citizen shared a similar story.

Read the rest of this entry →

Investigation: State Dept Contractor ERM Lied About TransCanada Ties

4:10 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

The contractor the Obama U.S. State Department hired for the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) of the northern half of TransCanada’s Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands export pipeline overtly lied on its conflict-of-interest disclosure form that it signed and handed to State in June 2012.

A major research dossier unfurled today by Friends of the Earth-U.S. (FOE-U.S.) and The Checks & Balances Project (CBP) shows that Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group) played “Pinocchio” in explaining its ties – or as they say, lack thereof – to Big Oil, tar sands and TransCanada in particular on its conflict-of-interest form.

The two groups dug deep and revealed State’s contractor ERM and its subsidiary Oasis Environmental both have ongoing contractual relationships with the Alaska Gas Project- now known as the South Central LNG Project - co-owned by TransCanada, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and BP. Further, ERM’s Socioeconomic Advisor Mark Jennings served as a “Consultant to ExxonMobil Development Company for the Alaska Pipeline Project, according to his now-scrubbed LinkedIn profile.

ERM’s own documents – FOE-U.S. and CBP further explain – also reveal the multinational firm has business ties with over a dozen companies active in the Alberta tar sands, including Exxon, Shell, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Total and Syncrude.

On its conflict-of-interest form, ERM said it had no “direct or indirect relationship … with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work.” Clearly, that’s far from the case.

In March, ERM Group – a City of London-based dues-paying member of the American Petroleum Institute (API) with a history of rubber-stamping ecologically hazardous oil and gas infrastructure projects – said KXL’s northern half ”is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development” of the tar sands in its SEIS. Thus, it will also have little impact on climate change, according to ERM’s SEIS, contracted out by TransCanada on behalf of the State Department.

FOE-U.S. says these most recent developments further call the entire SEIS into question, and that doesn’t include the fact that State recently revealed it’s clueless as to the exact route of the Keystone XL.

“From the beginning, the State Department’s review of Keystone has been plagued by influence peddling and conflicts of interest,” said FOE-U.S.’s Ross Hammond in a press statement.

“This is more serious: If ERM lied about its relationship with TransCanada, how can Secretary Kerry, President Obama or the American people believe anything the company says about the pipeline’s environmental impact?”

As PLATFORM London explains, ERM Group – also a dues-paying member of fracking industry lobbying force Marcellus Shale Coalition up until Oct. 2011 - is part of the “Carbon Web.” That’s shorthand for “the network of relationships between oil and gas companies and the government departments, regulators, cultural institutions, banks and other institutions that surround them.”

Given the state of play, both FOE-U.S. and CBP have called for State’s Office of the Inspector General to conduct a thorough investigation, examining how and why ERM was chosen. They’ve also called for a complete halt in the KXL review process until that transpires.

“Secretary Kerry must halt this flawed review process and direct the State Department to conduct a full, unbiased review of the Keystone XL pipeline’s impact,” Gabe Elsner, director of CBP said in a press statement.

In addition, the State Department Inspector General should pursue a full investigation into how a contractor with clear conflicts of interest was allowed to write the U.S. government’s assessment of Keystone XL and why the State Department failed to bring those conflicts of interest to light. Finally, the State Department should determine appropriate disciplinary actions for ERM to discourage contractors from lying to the federal government in the future.

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

API Spent $22 Million Lobbying for Keystone XL; State Dept Contractor ERM an API Member

6:20 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Screenshot from API’s homepage

In President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan address, he stated that TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would only receive State Department approval “if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

As it stands, that means Keystone XL – which if built to full capacity would pipe diluted bitumen, or “dilbit” from the Alberta tar sands down to Port Arthur, TX refineries for shipment to the global export market - may likely receive Obama’s approval.

That’s because Obama’s State Dept. – assigned to make a final decision on KXL because it crosses the international border – contracted its Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Study (SEIS) out to Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group).

ERM Group is a dues-paying member of the American Petroleum Institute (API), as is TransCanada.

The SEIS concluded KXL’s “approval or denial” – misleading because its southern half is already 75-percent complete via an Obama March 2012 Executive Order - “is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development” of the tar sands. Therefore, it will also have little impact on climate change, according to ERM’s SEIS.

It’s important to remember that ERM was chosen on behalf of State by TransCanada itself. Futher, one of the ERM employees tasked to conduct the SEIS, as exposed in a Mother Jones investigation, is a former TransCanada employee.

DeSmog investigation also reveals that API has spent $22.03 million dollars lobbying at the federal level on Keystone XL and/or tar sands issues since the pipeline was initially proposed in June 2008. Further, some of those oil lobbyists have direct ties to both President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the two men who have the final say on KXL.

API Keystone XL Lobbyists Ties to Obama and Kerry

One of the lobbyists helping in the API Keystone XL lobbying effort was Marty Durbin, the nephew of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). Sen. Durbin was President Obama’s former U.S. Senate colleague from Illinois before Obama won the presidency in 2008.

Initially hired by API to fend off proposed congressional climate change legislation in 2009, Marty Durbin was named President and CEO of America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) in March 2013, the industry lobbying powerhouse on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) matters.

API hired Ogilvy Government Relations to lobby for KXL in 2012, as well. One of Ogilvy’s key hired guns lobbying on behalf of API and KXL is Moses Mercado.

Mercado served as a key aide to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, as well as a super-delegate representing Texas for the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He also served as campaign director in New Mexico for U.S. Sec. of State John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.

“The waves are being generated by Mercado’s other line of work – as a lobbyist with Ogilvy Government Relations who is registered to represent several dozen big-name clients, including the National Rifle Association, the Carlyle Group, the Blackstone Group, Monsanto, Pfizer Inc., United Health Group, Sempra Energy and Constellation Energy,” a Sept. 2007 Washington Post article explained about Mercado joining the Obama campaign team (emphasis mine).

Obama’s national political director for his 2008 presidential campaign, Matthew Nugen, now also works at Ogilvy. He took the job less than a week after Obama’s Jan. 2009 inauguration.

Lobbying Coupled with a Dose of PR and Astroturf

Above and beyond lobbying, API has also devoted much time, money and effort on pro-Keystone XL public relations. Its most recent ongoing campaign is called Oil Sands Fact Check (OSFC).

As explained by the Houston Chronicle, OSFC was created as a tar sands parallel to Energy in Depth (EID), another industry-created front group to promote fracking:

[OSFC] is borrowing a page from Energy In Depth’s playbook, with regular “issue alerts” to reporters and others, and plans for touting the message via Facebook, Twitter and other social media. To lure in critics as well as supporters, the group has ads that appear on Google when users search for “tar sands” – a synonym often used derisively – and other related terms.

Before OSFC’s creation, API ran an astroturf campaign called Vote 4 Energy run byEdelman Public Relations.

“They’re using deception to talk to Americans about the oil and gas industry,” said Gabe Elsner of the Checks and Balances Project at the time, who auditioned to appear in one of API’s commercials. “These multi-million dollar campaigns are clearly being crafted to give the appearance that it’s ordinary people talking. What we experienced was that it was well scripted and totally set up to be the perfect commercial.”

API also created an astroturf group called Energy Citizens during the climate change legislative battle in 2009.

“The objective of these rallies is to put a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy and to aim a loud message at those states’ U.S. Senators to avoid the mistakes embodied in the House climate bill and the Obama Administration’s tax increases on our industry,” wrote API head Jack Gerard in a memo obtained byGreenpeace USA explaning the rationale behind the campaign to API members. “We are asking all API members to assist in these…activities. The size of the company does not matter, and every participant adds to the strength of our collective voice.”

Can State Dept./ERM SEIS Be Trusted?

With a history of rubber-stamping ecologically-hazardous projects, it should surprise no one that the southern half of KXL already has dents and poorly-welded metalrecently replaced by contractor Michels Corporation. An ominous sign for KXL’s future, to say the least.

“It’s clear that, devoid of factually-based energy and climate arguments, API needs to spend vast sums on lobbyists and campaign contributions to secure the access it needs to political power,” Tyson Slocum, Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program told DeSmog in an interview.

Friends of the Earth-US Senior Campaigner Ross Hammond echoed Slocum in an interview with DeSmog.

“It’s no wonder that API and its members continue to tout the ERM report as ‘proof’ that Keystone will make a minimal contribution to climate change despite the fact that the EPA and top scientists all take the opposite view. The fact that ERM is a paid member of API should have disqualified it from writing the Draft SEIS,” said Hammond.

State Department Inspector General Investigating Keystone XL Contractor ERM’s Conflicts of Interest

2:31 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The Checks and Balances Project has announced that the U.S. State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has launched a conflicts-of-interest investigation into dirty dealings pertaining to the contractor tasked to perform the environmental review for the northern half ofTransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sandspipeline on behalf of State.

Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group) declared the northern portion of Keystone XL as environmentally safe and sound on behalf of State in March, in defiance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s assessment, among others.

The northern half of Keystone XL will connect to the over 75-percent complete southern half and – if built – will carry Alberta’s tar sands bitumen south to Texas refineries, with most of the final product shipped to the highest bidder on the global market. State and eventually President Barack Obama have the final say over the proposal because the northern section of pipeline crosses the international border.

The overarching problem with that ERM assessment, as first revealed on Grist by Brad Johnson: ERM Group was chosen not by the State Dept., but by TransCanada itself. Furthermore, as first revealed on Mother Jones by Andy Kroll, the State Dept. redacted biographical portions of the EIS that pointed to ERM’s ongoing close consulting relationship with ERM Group and TransCanada.

“The American public was supposed to get an honest look at the impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline,” writes Checks and Balances‘ Gabe Elsner. ”Instead…a fossil fuel contractor, hid its ties from the State Department so they could green light the project on behalf of its oil company clients.”

Instead of an honest look, the public got deception, perhaps not surprisingly given ERM’s historical contracting relationship with Big Tobacco, as first revealed here onDeSmogBlog. ERM seems to have blatantly lied to the State Dept. – which apparently did no homework of its own, or turned a blind eye at least – and answered “no” to when questioned if it had done business with anyone tied to TransCanada in the past three years.

ERM also told State it was not an energy interest, when the facts say otherwise.

“The State Department question defines an energy interest in part as any company or person engaged in research related to energy development,” wrote Eslner. “Yet, ERM has worked for all of the top five oil companies and dozens of other fossil fuel companies. In other words, ERM is clearly an energy interest.”

For these reasons, a dozen groups (including DeSmogBlog), ranging from environmental NGOs, faith-based groups and government accountability watchdogs called for the Inspector General to investigate why State allowed TransCanada to choose ERM Group.

OIG Special Agent Pedro Colon, Checks and Balances reported, confirmed OIG is “reviewing the matter” in a voicemail left with Elsner. Not satisfied with Colon’s oblique answer, Elsner followed up with OIG via email to ask for more details.

In a May 14 email, Elsner was told the following by Erich Hart, General Counsel to the Inspector General, that Hart can’t comment on an ongoing investigation – implying, of course, that an investigation is happening.

It is this email that led Checks and Balances to believe that OIG is engaged in a serious, methodical probe into ERM Group’s activities related to the Keystone XL SEIS environmental review. The group questions why the State Department didn’t recognize a serious conflict-of-interest in choosing ERM.

The question still remains: will it be a serious investigation or a public relations window dressing act? Time will tell.

ERM Group’s Sordid History

ERM Group has a sordid history of green-lighting ecologically perilous projects. Perhaps not surprising given that it is a dues-paying member of Big Oil’s lobbying powerhouse, the American Petroleum Institute (API), which spent $7.3 million on lobbying in 2012 and another $8.6 million on lobbying in 2011.

As covered here on DeSmogBlog, ERM declared the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline that traverses from Azerbaijan, to Georgia and eventually to Turkey as environmentally and ecologically sound – even though it has proven neither. As also covered here, ERM said the Peru LNG and accompanying pipeline project was also environmentally and ecologically sound - again, even though it has proven neither.

So, unless OIG acts on the investigation it says it has opened and tells State to abide by federal contracting conflicts-of-interest law, it appears Keystone XL will be déjà vu all over again for ERM Group and the Obama Administration.

State Dept. Keystone XL Contractor Also OK’d Explosive, Faulty Peruvian Pipeline Project

8:08 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Macchu Pichu

The same consulting firm responsible for evaluating the Tar Sands Pipeline also worked on a troubled Peruvian project.

Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the State Department consulting firm that claims TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline proposal is safe and sound, previously provided a similarly rosy approval for the expansion of a Peruvian natural gas project that has since racked up a disastrous track record.

On March 1, the U.S. State Department declared KXL’s proposed northern half environmentally safe and sound in its draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), part of TransCanada’s Presidential Permit application for the proposed tar sands pipeline.

KXL is a 1,179-mile tube set to blast 800,000 barrels of tar sands crude a day – also known as diluted bitumen or “dilbit” - from Alberta down to Port Arthur, TX. After it reaches Port Arthur, the crude will be sold to the highest bidder on the global export market. “XL” is shorthand for “expansion line,” named such because it would expand the marketability of tar sands crude to foreign buyers.

Because the Obama State Dept. has the final say on the project due to its crossing the Canada-U.S. border, clearing State’s EIS hurdle was crucial for TransCanada. Just days later, though, watchdogs revealed that State had outsourced the EIS out to oil and gas industry-tied consulting firms hand-picked by TransCanada itself.

One of those firms – Environmental Resources Management (ERM) Group - has historical ties to Big Tobacco; published a study declaring “safe” a Caspian Sea pipeline that ended up spilling 70,000 barrels of oil; and has a client list that includes Koch Industries, ConocoPhilips and ExxonMobil – corporations all with skin in the tar sands game. ExxonMobil’s Pegasus Pipeline recently spilled 189,000 gallons of tar sands crude into a Mayflower, Arkansas neighborhood.

An examination into the historical annals shows that ERM Group also green-lighted a major pipeline and liquefied natural gas (LNG) expansion project akin to KXL in Peru. The project in a nutshell: a 253-mile-long, 34-inch pipeline carries gas obtained from Peru’s Camisea field - located partly in the Amazon rainforest with the pipeline snaking through the Andes Mountains - to Peru’s west coast. From there, it’s exported primarily to the U.S. and Mexico.Camisea – described by Amazon Watch as the “most damaging project in the Amazon Basin“ - has created a whole host of problems. These include displacing indigenous people, clear-cutting forests that serve as a key global carbon sink to make way for the project, and major pipeline spills, to name a few.

Environmentally Sound…Except for Faulty Pipelines, Explosions

ERM performed the Environmental and Social Review Summary for Peru LNG on behalf of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), one of the tentacles of the World Bank Group. The Review lasted between Sept. 2006 and Jan. 2008.

Peru LNG, which went online in June 2010, is co-owned by an international consortium of corporations including the U.S.-based, Hunt Oil. LNG is a bit of a misnomer: the project is not only the LNG export terminal itself, but also an accompanying 253-mile pipeline carrying Camisea’s gas to Peru’s west coast and is sometimes referred to as “Camisea II.” In so doing, it traverses some of the country’s most pristine areas in the Andes and Amazon.

According to the IFC Corporation, ERM Group reviewed every aspect of the proposed project: