C&BP Statement on State Dept. Inspector General Keystone XL Investigation

Today, the State Department Office of Inspector General announced that an investigation into Environmental Resources Management’s (ERM) conflicts of interest would not be completed until January 2014. This announcement indicates that the Keystone XL pipeline decision is facing another delay as a result of ERM lying to the State Department about its connections to TransCanada, the company hoping to build the pipeline.

The Checks & Balances Project and 10 other organizations, called on the Inspector General in April to launch an investigation into ERM’s conflicts of interest. In government documents, ERM claimed that it had no relationship with TransCanada or any other entity with a stake in the project “in the past three years” despite working for TransCanada and other oil companies with a stake in the Canadian tar sands. Unredacted documents revealed proof that ERM had worked for TransCanada during that three year period and lied to the State Department on conflict of interest disclosure forms.

In late May, after receiving a call from a Special Agent at the Office of Inspector General, The Checks & Balances Project announced that the State Department had launched a probe into conflict of interest allegations.

Gabe Elsner, Director of the Checks & Balances Project, released the following statement following news of the State Department’s inquiry and review of these 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.  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. The Inspector General should complete a full investigation into ERM’s misleading statements and the State Department should determine appropriate disciplinary actions for ERM to discourage contractors from lying to the federal government in the future.”

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.

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.

Keystone XL Environmental Impact Consultant’s Cozy Relationships with Fossil Fuel Interests

ERMFossilRelationshipsBlogEnvironmental Resources Management (ERM), the consulting firm hired to perform the supplemental environmental analysis of the Keystone XL pipeline works for and has worked for fossil fuel companies with a stake in the Canadian Tar Sands. Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll exposed the conflicts of interest in an exclusive story, which included unredacted documents that show the recent work history of ERM’s consultants.

It’s no surprise that ERM painted a rosy picture of Keystone XL’s environmental impact. Their business depends on it. ERM’s major clients in the fossil fuel industry would steer clear of an environmental consulting company that determines fossil fuel projects are not environmentally responsible. ERM claimed in the report that the Keystone
XL pipeline would not lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions or significantly impact the environment along its route.

Last week, Steve Horn from DeSmogBlog documented major problems with another pipeline (the 1,300 mile-long Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan (BTC)) determined by an ERM environmental assessment to be “environmentally and socio-economically sound.” Horn wrote, “An Aug. 2008 Wikileaks cable discusses a BTC explosion in a mountainous area of eastern Turkey …which spewed 70,000 barrels of oil into the surrounding area.” The BTC
pipeline caused enormous environmental damage and failed to live up to the jobs hype created by the project developers, which included BP, State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR), Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Eni and Total.

Horn goes on to quote Mik Minio-Paluello, co-author of The Oil Road – a new book documenting the slew of destructive impacts of BTC saying, “Supposedly an environmental consultancy, in practice ERM operated more like aPR firm representing BP and now they’re fulfilling a similar role for TransCanada.”

So why does ERM operate more like a PR firm than an environmental consultancy?

Let’s say ERM provided a review claiming a fossil fuel project was skirting safety precautions or moving too quickly to ensure quality seals on the pipeline (see Keystone XL’s faulty welding here). Would a fossil fuel company, whose financial interest is building more fossil fuel infrastructure, want to hire a consultant that results in delays and increased costs for developing that infrastructure?

Checks & Balances Project contacted ERM’s Global Head of Communications Simon Garcia multiple times over the past week without any response.  We requested comment on the following question: Has ERM ever determined that a proposed fossil fuel project was not “environmentally sound” in an assessment?

The answer is probably “no.”

 

 

Another Friday News Dump: State Department Paves Way for Keystone XL Approval

State Department releases Keystone XL environmental impact statement, ignores reality of climate change impacts

This afternoon, the State Department released its Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on the controversial Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline, claiming that the pipeline will “not likely result in significant adverse environmental effects.” The SEIS paves the way for President Obama’s approval of the pipeline despite widespread concern over the climate impacts of tar sands oil.
The State Department assessment does acknowledge that excavation of the Canadian tar sands oil would result in 17% more climate change emissions than the average barrel of heavy crude oil. But the report continues to say that the KXL pipeline would have no adverse impact on climate change because if the pipeline were not approved, companies would ship tar sands oil via railroad.

In reality, the Keystone XL pipeline is a “fundamental element in the oil industry’s plan to triple production of tar sands oil from 2 million barrels per day (bpd) to 6 million bpd by 2030” (and eventually to 9 million bpd), according to a whitepaper (PDF) from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The NRDC whitepaper quotes Andrew Potter, a Managing Director at CIBC World Markets, an investment banking subsidiary of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, as saying “Even if you build every single pipe that’s on the table right now… you’re still short pipeline capacity…For the growth to continue, all the proposed export pipeline capacity and more will need to be built, and soon.”

With other options for transporting tar sands oil facing significant opposition, Keystone XL is the path for tar sands industry growth. The Obama Administration just released a report that positions the President to greenlight the project. So as the President goes to make his decision in the coming weeks, let’s hope he remembers his lofty words from his inaugural address: “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

For more breaking news on the Keystone XL decision, see DeSmogBlog’s live blog here.

Protesters highlight Clinton’s connection to Keystone XL

The connection between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline was not missed by the thousands of protesters who staked out territory in front of the White House over the last two weeks.

On Thursday several protesters brought up the connection between lobbyists with TransCanada, which owns the Keystone, and the former presidential candidate. Clinton, whose State Department gave the green light to TransCanada just a week ago, was actually dealing with familiar faces in the approval process. As pointed out in this video, as well as several other reports, the chief lobbyist working for TransCanada is Paul Elliot, who just so happens to have been a high level campaign operative for Clinton during her failed campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination against Barack Obama.

“TransCanada‘s lobbyists, of you look at how much money they are pouring into public relations and advertising it’s clear they are running the show and calling the shots, which is a sad state of affairs in Washington, DC.,” said Steve Horn of the DeSmogBlog, who was covering the protests in front of the White House on Thursday. Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, who has been at the protests for a full two weeks pointed out that he still supports President Obama, though he says he is getting more skeptical by the hour that the administration will not step in to block the expansion of the Keystone XL.

“We are hopeful we are all wearing out Obama ’08 buttons on the other hand we are sitting outside his house and we know that too many tomes energy lobbyists have won out on these things,” said McKibben.

The video posted above shows protesters making their voices heard during Thursday’s demonstrations. Despite the passion of the crowd almost ever protester made a point to mention the connection between Hilary Clinton and TransCanada.

Video outlines industry influence over State Department and Keystone XL

As protestors continue to make their voices heard outside the White House, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s connections to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline have become a hot button issue with those opposing the project.

Clinton’s State Department gave the okay for President Barack Obama to rubberstamp the proposed pipeline, which would connect refineries in the Gulf Coast of the United States with Tar Sands reserves in the forests of northern Alberta. The latest connection for Clinton comes in the form of a cartoon parody thanks to some creative minds at the DeSmogBlog.com. The video, which is posted below shows Clinton in the presence of some “friends” from the fossil fuel industry, who just happened to make large donations to her failed presidential campaign in 2008.

 

 

Clinton and the State Department play a critical role in the in the approval process of the 1,600-mile crude pipeline because the pipeline crosses an international boundary. Though her diplomatic role in the process is a matter of governmental protocol, her ties to the companies involved with the Keystone XL have frequently been called into question. TransCanada, the company that owns the existing Keystone pipeline, hired former Clinton campaign operative Paul Elliott as their lobbyist to negotiate with the State Department. This has resulted in lawsuits from ethical organizations and calls for Clinton to recuse herself from the approval process. Clinton ignored those calls, and last week her State Department approved the proposal.  Now, only Barack Obama can halt the project.