Green groups have mounted an aggressive attack against TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline by filing a lawsuit in federal court Monday accusing the State Department and their latest Keystone XL Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of being "plagued by conflicts of interest."
"Imagine if the surgeon general was replaced with a tobacco executive," Robin Mann, former Sierra Club club president, said during a press call on Tuesday. "At the State Department, we're seeing something just as outrageous."
Led by the Sierra Club who filed the suit, the groups are asserting that the State Department is "withholding key documents" related to the Keystone XL impact statement including evidence related to a "potential conflict of interest" with Environmental Resources Management, the third-party contractor hired to conduct the analysis. They are demanding the documents under a Freedom of Information Act request.
Lynne Peeples of the Huffington Post reports:
During the press call on Tuesday, advocates pushed for a State Department investigator general analysis of the impact statement. Mann added that ERM is a "dues-paying member" of the American Petroleum Institute, the largest U.S trade association for the oil and natural gas industry.
“The State Department should be an honest broker on Keystone XL, not a cheerleader for TransCanada,” said Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica. “Secretary Kerry needs to halt the review process and find out how a paid member of the American Petroleum Institute was allowed to write such a critical report and why State Department employees have tried to cover up this company’s ties with the oil industry.”
The groups are calling on Secretary of State John Kerry to suspend the review until State Department Investigator General investigation has looked into the process. Nearly 73,000 people have signed petitions through groups such as Friends of the Earth, Bold Nebraska, and Oil Change International, echoing this request.
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“The only way the State Department could produce even a remotely favorable review of this dirty and flawed pipeline is by getting Big Oil’s friends to write it for them,” said Oil Change International executive director, Steve Kretzmann. “The tens of thousands of people who have joined this campaign are making it clear that we won’t stand for this. Secretary Kerry has a key opportunity to reject bad process, to reject Big Oil influence and to reject this dirty pipeline.”
Devorah Ancel, the Sierra Club attorney working on the lawsuit, noted that in March the group formally requested evidence that the State Department had screened for conflict of interest when selecting ERM for the project. They also asked for documents supporting the report's conclusions that Keystone XL would have no significant impact on the environment and that the expansion of tar sands development would occur with or without the project.
Ancel said that the department has "refused to hand over documents" and was "not able to provide a timeline or even a promise that the information would be disclosed before they make a final decision," a milestone she said she and other experts now anticipate by the end of the year.
"We felt that the Sierra Club had tried every means possible to get that information," Ancel told HuffPost. "This lawsuit was the next step we had to take to get these documents, as they are critically important in the public's evaluation and the overall review of Keystone XL."
The lawsuit also asks for the State Department to reopen the public comment period and hold off on finalizing the environmental review until the documents are made available.