Industry’s new leaf?

Maybe the oil and gas lobby’s latest efforts should strike hope in the hearts of Coloradans. Are they turning over a new leaf and willing to balance energy development with conservation interests? Maybe … maybe not.

From Colorado Oil and Gas Association Director Tisha Schuller’scharm offensive” to Western Energy Alliance President Tim Wigely’spoll for the people,” oil and gas lobbyists are in high gear trying to stop a public relations mess that industry themselves created.

Clearly the effort is garnering them good press like Schuller reinventing herself as the environmentalist or Mr. Wigley taking a tired poll they rehash nearly every year and parading it as proof they want to know what Coloradans think.

Mr. Wigley makes broad claims about the support for energy development using his national poll, but he fails to take a look at what people believe in his own backyard. If industry really wants to know what Coloradans think, they don’t have too far to go far to find out. They want the health of their communities, our air, and our national parks on equal ground with energy development.

A recent poll of westerners by Hart Research Associates found that nearly two-thirds of voters (65 percent) believe that “permanently protecting and conserving public lands for future generations is very important to them personally” while less than a third (30 percent) feel that “making sure oil and gas resources on public lands are available for development” is important.

Just this week, a delegation from the North Fork Valley traveled to Washington, DC calling for balance. The group included a winery owner, local official, and agricultural representative. After officials like Colorado BLM Dir. Helen Hankins and industry failed to listen to the community, they took matters into their own hand and drafted a citizen proposal which allows for responsible energy development while protecting the booming agri-tourism economy of the North Fork.

This isn’t the first time that there have been questions about Dir. Hankins continually listening to the oil and gas industry instead of local communities and conservation interests. Industry proposals to drill near Mesa Verde National Park and place a drill rig near the visitor center of Dinosaur National Monument have faced severe backlash.

Yesterday, Boulder County Councilors decided to put a three-year oil and gas fracking ban on the ballot to give its residents an opportunity to speak and industry to listen. It’s no wonder so many local communities along the Front Range are proposing hard-lines like that after industry failed to “listen” to Coloradans and instead sided with Gov. John Hickenlooper to kill numerous bills which would have protected our water, our air, and our health.

Ms. Schuller and Mr. Wigley have one thing right. A rational conversation about oil and gas drilling is long overdue. We must put our communities, our air, and our national parks on equal ground with energy development.

It’s time for the oil and gas lobby to turn over that leaf.

New survey proves Westerners want conservation on equal ground with drilling

Today, the Center for American Progress (CAP) announced new public opinion research that illustrates the stark gap between Washington’s public equal ground logoland use priorities – heavily weighted toward pro-development policies – and what Westerners believe is an appropriate balance between oil and gas drilling and protecting treasured landscapes for future generations.

This new research clearly shows a bipartisan majority of Western voters are more interested in preserving land for recreation and the enjoyment of future generations than in using it for oil and gas drilling. From CAP’s press release:

“When it comes to public lands, oil and gas drilling is not popular (30%); instead, Western voters across party lines are most concerned with preserving access to recreation opportunities (63%) and permanently protecting wilderness, parks, and open spaces for future generations (65%).”

As CAP points out, this research confirms a severe lack of citizen accountability from our government.

  • On one hand, we have the Obama administration, which has leased more than 6.3 million acres of public land to oil and gas companies for drilling –  more than two and a half times as much as it has permanently protected for future generations;
  • And on the other, a Congress that was the first since World War II to not protect a single new acre of public land as wilderness, national park, monument, or wildlife refuge – despite the opposing sentiments of their own constituents.

Read the full report.

The launch of the “Equal Ground” campaign also makes good sense in that it will push Congress and the Obama Administration to align their priorities for how we use public lands with the obvious expectations of communities across the West that rely on national parks, wildlife refuges and other open spaces to attract high-paying businesses, entrepreneurs and visitors to come to enjoy world-class recreation resources just as much as they rely on energy development – done responsibly, in appropriate places.

One way the Obama administration could start achieving the balance Westerners expect from federal policymakers is to implement its own 2010 leasing reform directives, meant to drive our local economies with a real balance between protecting public lands to support and attract high-wage businesses in the West, and using them to produce energy. These reforms give federal officials crucial tools to look at the landscape before the leasing phase, and plan out the right places to drill and the right areas to leave alone because they bring major economic benefits to the community.

But in Colorado, federal bureaucrats have failed to implement these new directives – turning the President’s balanced reforms into a broken promise for Western communities.

As John Podesta rightfully said today:

“This is a case where Washington’s policies and rhetoric are still locked in a drilling-first mindset, but Westerners want the protection of public lands to be put on equal ground. Voters do not see conservation and development of public lands as an either-or choice; instead, they want to see expanded protections for public lands—including new parks, wilderness, and monuments—as part of a responsible and comprehensive energy strategy.”

The Equal Ground campaign is supported by a variety of individuals and organizations, including The Center for American Progress, Conservation Lands Foundation, The Wilderness Society, and The Center for Western Priorities.

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

In yet another investigation into the Obama Administration’s activities, the State Department Inspector General is probing the conflicts of interest surrounding the contractor that performed the Keystone XL review,.

ERMProposalThe American public was supposed to get an honest look at the impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline. Instead, Environmental Resources Management (ERM), 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.

Hiring an oil company contractor to review an oil pipeline that its clients have a financial interest in should be illegal – and it is. The Federal Government has strict laws to avoid conflicts of interest and prevent the hiring of contractors who cannot provide unbiased services.

Unredacted documents from the contractor’s proposal (revealed by Mother Jones) show that the company had worked for TransCanada, ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel companies that have a stake in the Canadian Tar Sands.

But, ERM misled the State Department at least twice in its proposal (see C&BP’s original post on ERM’s conflicts of interest)– which may have led to its selection by the State Department to review the Keystone XL pipeline.

OCI Question 6

First, ERM answered “No” to the question “Within the past three years, have you (or your organization) had a direct or indirect relationship (financial, organizational, contractual or otherwise) with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work?“ ERM appears to have added to the Yes/No questionnaire that, “ERM has no existing contract or working relationship with TransCanada.” Regardless of the addendum, the oil company contractor misled the State Department by checking “No” to the specific question above. Despite the fact that unredacted documents show that ERM worked for TransCanada and other fossil fuel companies with a stake in Keystone XL pipeline in the three years prior to its proposal.

Second, ERM claimed it was not an energy interest. The State Department question defines an energy interest in part as any company or person engaged in research related to energy development. 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.

How can we trust ERM to perform an honest review of the Keystone XL pipeline, if it can’t answer a yes/no question honestly?

These misleading statements should have been flagged by the State Department and the contractor should not have been able to perform the review because of these seeming conflicts of interest.

ERMLetterBecause of the issues above, Checks & Balances Project (C&BP) and 11 environmental, faith-based and public interest organizations sent a letter  [.PDF] on April 8, 2013, calling on Secretary of State John Kerry and the State Department Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel to investigate two things: first, whether ERM hid conflicts of interest which might have excluded it from performing the Keystone XL environmental assessment and second, how State Department officials failed to flag inconsistencies in ERM’s proposal.

A few weeks later, C&BP received a voicemail from a Special Agent at the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG):

Hello Mr. Elsner, my name is Special Agent Pedro Colon from the State Department’s Office of Inspector General.  I’m calling to inform you that we have received your request and are reviewing the matter.  If you have any questions please contact me at 703-284-2688.

On May 7, 2013, I called Special Agent Colon but he was unable to speak at the time. I followed up the next day and spoke with the Special Agent via phone regarding the request for an investigation. I asked a few basic questions about the status of the complaint and asked specifically if C&BP would be informed should the complaint be fully investigated by the Office of Inspector General (OIG). Special Agent Colon informed me that he could not speak to any of the questions and referred us to other staff in the OIG.

On May 9, 2013, I received an email from the OIG General Counsel saying, “that the complaint was being processed per the OIG hotline procedures and is under review.” (See the entire email correspondence here [.PDF])

I then asked the OIG General Counsel the same question he asked Mr. Colon:

If the hotline is moved out of the review process and onto the next step (an investigation?), will I be notified?

The OIG  replied via email saying that the OIG Office of Investigations will not comment if it is engaged in an investigation.

The correspondence between C&BP and the OIG indicates that there is a probe into the Keystone XL review conflicts of interest.

The public was supposed to get an honest look at the impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline. Instead, ERM, an oil company contractor, misled the State Department, in what appears to be an attempt to green light the project on behalf of oil industry clients.

The American Public needs a full investigation into the conflicts of interest and misleading statements of the Keystone XL review contractor, Environmental Resources Management.

Secretary Kerry needs to stop the Keystone XL process until the Inspector General completes a full investigation of these conflicts of interest and the State Department has an unbiased review of Keystone XL’s impact.

Same story, different day: Lamborn, Tipton offer-up tired package of oil and gas company giveaways

House Republicans paraded out their latest series of giveaways to the billion-dollar oil and gas industry today in a subcommittee chaired by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO). The bills would increase corporate welfare and a total disregard for western families and the economic health of local communities.

These reckless proposals put forth by Reps. Lamborn, Scott Tipton (R-CO), and Doc Hastings (R-WA) have failed over and over again in Congress because Americans want more out of their representatives than messaging bills for the oil and gas industry. At a time when oil and gas companies are already getting fat on the taxpayers’ dime, it’s appalling that politicians are dishing up yet another industry smorgasbord with zero regard for Western families’ safety and security.

Westerners want a real balance between protecting public lands and energy development. That balance is critical for attracting high-wage businesses and maintaining the billion-dollar outdoor recreation economy in the West.

The three tired bills paraded out yet again today include extreme measures that create quotas and mandates on behalf of oil and gas companies, and encourage risky speculation on publicly owned lands. These reckless proposals would sacrifice our drinking water, air quality, and public lands just to create more handouts that would do nothing to address our energy concerns.

These reckless measures run counter to western values and what’s best for local economies. Recent polling found that 9 out of 10 Westerners agree that national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are an essential part of the economy, while 74% believe that national parks, forests, and monuments, help to attract high quality employers and good jobs to their state.

The outdoor recreation industry alone accounts for $646 billion in annual spending, 6 million jobs and nearly $80 billion in local, state and federal taxes.

Yet, House Republicans continue to push these same reckless proposals, regardless of the potentially devastating impacts to western families and economies – in order to provide more handouts to the billion dollar oil and gas industry which is already hoarding millions of acres of public lands, billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies and is focused on drilling on non-federal lands, where the best and most profitable oil resources are located.

Reps Lamborn, Tipton and Hastings, need to be held accountable for blatant disregard of taxpayer money and their continued attempts to increase corporate welfare for oil and gas companies.

Key provisions from the legislation considered today:

Rep. Lamborn’s bill (HR 1965) would:

  • Block the public from participating in oil and gas leasing decisions by creating “entrance fees” of up to $5,000 to join the conversation.
  • Mandate leasing and encourage costly oil shale speculation that has a century-long track record of failure despite billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies.
  • Roll back the Obama Administration’s common sense approach to the failed “rock that burns,” oil shale, which would put already scarce western water at risk.

Rep. Tipton’s bill (HR 1394) would:

  • Establish energy development – especially fossil fuels – as the primary use of public lands, jeopardizing the billion-dollar outdoor recreation and tourism industries and the thousands of western jobs that they create.
  • Require the Department of Interior to prioritize oil, gas and coal over renewable energy development.

Rep. Hastings bill (HR 1964) would:

  • Fast track approval of drilling permits, roads and pipelines in the National Petroleum Reserve (NPR-A) in Alaska, regardless of potential environmental impacts.
  • Eliminate the “integrated activity plan” for NPR-A that balances energy development with protection of wildlife habitat and other critical areas.

C&BP Calls for State Dept. Investigation into Keystone XL Consultant’s Conflicts of Interest

ERMLetter

Letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and State Dept. Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel

Yesterday, Checks & Balances Project and 11 environmental, faith-based and public interest organizations called on Secretary of State John Kerry and the State Department Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel to investigate whether Environmental Resources Management (ERM) hid conflicts of interest which might have excluded it from performing the Keystone XL environmental assessment and how State Department officials failed to flag inconsistencies in ERM’s proposal. Tom Zeller, Senior Writer at The Huffington Post, wrote an article highlighting the letter callings for an investigation.

Early last month, the State Department released a 2,000 page environmental impact study for the Keystone XL pipeline claiming that the pipeline would not have major impact on the environment. But, Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the consulting firm hired to perform the “draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS),” has ties to fossil fuel companies with major stakes in the Alberta Tar Sands. This conflict of interest was not accurately disclosed  in ERM’s answers on a State Department questionnaire. Checks & Balances Project considers ERM’s responses in its proposal to be intentionally misleading statements.

Unredacted Documents Uncover Conflicts of Interest
Last week, Mother Jones released unredacted versions of the ERM proposal, showing that three experts “had done consulting work for TransCanada and other oil companies with a stake in the Keystone’s approval.”

The unredacted biographies show that ERM’s employees have an existing relationship with ExxonMobil and worked for TransCanada within the last three years among other companies involved in the Canadian tar sands.

Here’s more from Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll:

“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.”

When asked about who at the State Department decided to redact ERM’s biographies, a State Department spokesperson said “ERM proposed redactions of some information in the administrative documents that they considered business confidential.” Disclosing past clients may be business confidential information, but from what the biographies show, ERM may have recommended the redactions to hide conflicts of interest from public disclosure.

Problem with ERM Answers on Conflict of Interest Questionnaire 

ERMProposal

ERM’s Proposal to the State Department

The biographies on ERM’s proposal show that the company has had direct relationships with multiple business entities that could be affected by the proposed work in the past three years.

In the “Organizational Conflict of Interest Questionnaire,” the State Department asks (page 42), “Within the past three years, have you (or your organization) had a direct or indirect relationship (financial, organizational, contractual or otherwise) with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work?“ ERM’s Project Manager, Steve Koster, checked “No” but appears to have added to the Yes/No questionnaire that, “ERM has no existing contract or working relationship with TransCanada.”

Regardless of the addendum Koster added, he still submitted an incomplete statement when checking “No” to the specific question above. Simply put, the information provided by Mr. Koster was an incomplete statement if one simply reviews the biographies of ERM’s employees for the project.

The State Department Contracting Officer should have flagged this inconsistency when reviewing the staff biographies.  ERM’s answers did not properly reveal in the Yes/No questionnaire that ERM did have a current “direct relationship” with a business enetity that could be affected by the proposed work and a relationship in the past three years with TransCanada, the company building the pipeline.

Koster’s incomplete statement on direct business relationships is not the only odd statement in ERM’s proposal. ERM also answered “No” to the question, “Are you (or your organization) an ‘energy concern?’” which the State Department defines (in part) as: “Any person — (1) significantly engaged in the business of conducting research…related to an activity described in paragraphs (i) through (v).” Paragraph (i) states: “Any person significantly engaged in the business of developing, extracting, producing, refining, transporting by pipeline, converting into synthetic fuel, distributing, or selling minerals for use as an energy source…” ERM as a research firm working for fossil fuel companies is, unequivocally, an energy interest.

So the question must be asked: If ERM is unable to accurately fill out a simple questionnaire regarding conflicts of interest, how can we trust the company to perform an unbiased environmental assessment of a 1,179 mile-long pipeline cutting through the American heartland? And, why did the State Department’s Contracting Officer not flag the inconsistencies in ERM’s Conflict of Interest Questionnaire when reviewing the proposals?

Intentions of State Department and ERM in Question

The Federal Government has strict ethics rules to prevent Organizational Conflicts of Interest (OCIs) from impacting the impartiality of government contracts and to prevent hiring contractors who cannot provide independent and unbiased services to the government.

According to a white paper from the Congressional Research Service, before the State Department could choose ERM as the contractor, the “Contracting Officer” had to make an “affirmative determination of responsibility.” All government contractors (including ERM) must be deemed responsible, in part by meeting strict ethics guidelines, known as “collateral requirements.”

According to current collateral requirements, contractors must be found “nonresponsible” when there are unavoidable and unmitigated OCIs. Checks & Balances Project believes that the Contracting Officer should have deemed ERM “nonresponsible” because the company serves as a contractor for major fossil fuel companies that have a stake in the Keystone XL pipeline. If ERM were “nonresponsible”, the company would have been ineligible to perform the environmental impact review of the Keystone XL pipeline.

These potential material incomplete statements on a Federal Government proposal calls into question the integrity of ERM and threatens millions in government contracts.

If ERM were determined to be “nonresponsible” or “excluded” because of these incomplete statements, it could jeopardize ERM’s ability to perform any work for the Federal Government. Again, according to the Congressional Research Service:

“Decisions to exclude are made by agency heads or their designees (above the contracting officer’s level) based upon evidence that contractors have committed certain integrity offenses, including any “offenses indicating a lack of business integrity or honesty that seriously affect the present responsibility of a contractor.””

Certainly these incomplete statements call into question both the independence of ERM and the judgement of the Contracting Officer in making the “affirmative determination of responsibility.” This proposal process should be investigated by the State Department Inspector General to determine if ERM’s statements are cause for exclusion.

Groups Calling for Inspector General Investigation

We believe ERM used multiple material incomplete statements and had clear conflicts of interest as shown in the unredacted documents. So, why was ERM hired by the State Department?

Checks & Balances Project asked a State Department spokesperson about the conflicts of interest and the spokesperson said: “Based on a thorough consideration of all of the information presented, including the work histories of team members, the Department concluded that ERM has no financial or other interest in the outcome of the project that would constitute a conflict of interest.” Perhaps the State Department’s Contracting Offier made the decision to hire ERM because of the company’s incomplete statements on the conflict of interest questionnaire.

Harold Geisel, Deputy Inspector General, U.S. State Department

Checks & Balances Project along with 11 other groups (Better Future Project, Center for Biological Diversity, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, DeSmogBlog, Forecast the Facts, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, NC WARN, Oil Change International, Public Citizen’s Energy Program and Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth) sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and the State Department Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel calling for an investigation into the matter. These incomplete statements and the determination by the Contracting Officer that ERM did not have any conflicts of interest, despite clear evidence to the contrary, are grounds for further investigation.

Donors Trust: The Secret Group Funding Attacks on Clean Energy & Climate Science

New research shows almost $120 million flowed from two secretive groups, called “Donors Trust” and “Donors Capital” to 102 groups denying climate science and attacking clean energy. The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg reports that “the funds, doled out between 2002 and 2010, helped build a vast network of think tanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarizing ‘wedge issue’ for hardcore conservatives.”

Greenpeace research (.pdf) into the tax records of these organizations shows that publicly-disclosed funding for climate denial groups from foundations connected to the Koch Brothers began to decrease in 2006. But, funding from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund soared from less than $20 million per year to almost $35 million per year from 2006 to 2009. Kert Davies, research director at Greenpeace said to the Guardian, “These groups are increasingly getting money from sources that are anonymous or untraceable. There’s no transparency, no accountability for the money. There is no way to tell who is funding them.”

Many of these organizations funded by Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund are also working to attack clean energy. Goldenberg notes in a companion article that recipients, including groups like the Heartland Institute and Americans for Prosperity (AFP), have received millions from the two secretive organizations.

AFP, which received $7.6 million from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund in 2010 (43% of its budget), drove anti-wind efforts last fall, leading a coalition of fossil fuel-funded groups to write a letter calling on Congress to block tax credits for wind energy. The Washington Post reported in November 2012 that the Heartland Institute, which received $1.6 million from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund in 2010 (27% of its budget), joined with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to push model legislation to state legislators in an effort to eliminate state clean energy standards across the country. In addition, organizations that are part of the State Policy Network (SPN), which received $4.8 million from Donors Trust in 2010 (36% of its budget), published reports bashing clean energy standards that are now likely being used to attack clean energy policies in states across the country (like Kansas and Ohio).

Furthermore, the Guardian revealed in a third story that Donors Trust bankrolled the Franklin Centre for Government and Public Integrity, a newly established organization founded in 2009, which is running a campaign to “stop state governments moving towards renewable energy.” The Franklin Centre has strong ties to American’s for Prosperity and the Koch Brothers, including former staff members of both AFP and a Koch Family Foundation according to a PR Watch investigation.

Are these attacks ideological? Or are other fossil fuel interests like the Koch Brothers funding these efforts to stop a potential market threat? We know that fossil fuel corporations that have a financial incentive to stop the growth of the clean energy industry and their benefactors and foundations have funded many of these groups over the years. With an ability to hide the money trail through groups like Donors Trust, I would bet fossil fuel interests continue to fund fake grassroots campaigns and front groups to attack clean energy.

Center for Western Priorities documentary series tells stories of drilling impacts on communities

The nonpartisan Center for Western Priorities (CWP) released its new LookWest interview series, today. According to a CWP release:

“Colorado communities struggling to balance their quality of life and local economies with industrial drilling and fracking operations are the focus of a new mini-documentary series by the Center for Western Priorities (CWP).”

The videos include interviews with residents and local business owners in Rifle and Paonia. People living in the Western Slope community of Rifle already have drilling in their midst, and are experiencing air and water challenges, explosions and truck traffic that make some of them wish they’d never moved there.

Farmers, ranchers and local business owners in Paonia talk about Colorado BLM’s plans to make 20,000+ acres in their area available for oil and gas leasing. Agriculture is a staple of the North Fork Valley, and the farmers and ranchers are scared of the impact drilling will have on their livelihoods.

“It’s an unknown practice,” said Jeff Schwartz, a Paonia farmer. “The risk that we’ve learned, that I’ve learned, about around the country is that there is a high risk of water contamination, and that’s a high risk to my family making a living.” Schwartz continued, “Anything that threatens the safety of our food crops threatens everything we do.”

Watch the Rifle video.

Watch the Paonia video.

CWP says that LookWest will continue visiting western communities to give people affected by oil and gas drilling a platform to have their stories heard. The videos will on the CWP website (www.westernpriorities.org) and YouTube page.