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Demonstrators protest against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline in San Francisco, California February 3, 2014. REUTERS/Stephen Lam Demonstrators protest against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline in San Francisco, California February 3, 2014. REUTERS/Stephen Lam  

State Department says no ‘conflict of interest’ in Keystone XL pipeline review

The State Department has cleared the consulting firm hired to review the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impact, outraging environmentalists.

“The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline fails President Obama’s climate test, and today’s Inspector General report does nothing to change that,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune.

“This Inspector General Report raises more questions than it answers,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. “In fact it reveals serious errors in the State Department’s process for vetting conflicts of interest.”

The State Department announced that the consulting firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM) had followed federal rules for avoiding conflicts of interest and that the “processes not only avoided conflicts of interest, but were more rigorous than required.”

ERM was hired by the State Department to assess the environmental impact of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries. Both reviews done by ERM stated that the pipeline would have no significant effect on U.S. carbon dioxide emissions or the environment.

Environmental groups tried to discredit the reviews. Activists said that ERM had done previous work for TransCanada which it did not disclose, as well as holding further ties to the oil and gas industry.

“Its conclusion that the agency followed its procedures seems to rest mainly on interviews with State Department lawyers who, the report points out, never documented all of the supposed due diligence they were conducting,” Pica said.

But the State Department’s inspector general disagreed. The IG’s office found that “the process used to assess organizational conflicts of interest was effective” and that the Department’s selection of ERM “substantially followed and at times was more rigorous than its prescribed Guidance.”

Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva was also not satisfied with the State Department’s conclusion and asked the Government Accountability Office to look into the potential conflicts of interest in the Keystone XL review.

“We’re asking the Government Accountability Office to look into all these facets within the State Department, look at the conflict issue … nothing should be glossed over; nothing should be ignored,” Grijalva said on Tuesday.

Environmentalists have fought hard to prove that the Keystone XL pipeline would have significant environmental impacts, especially on global warming. President Obama made it clear last summer that he would only approve the pipeline if it did not significantly add to U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

Environmentalists have taken up that challenge, criticizing the State Department’s review and even putting out their own studies which argue that the pipeline would add significantly to U.S. carbon emissions and would not be in the national interest.

“The decision on whether to bring dirty tar sands through our heartland remains with President Obama and Secretary Kerry,” said Brune. “We are confident that they will look beyond the flawed environmental assessment, and reject tar sands.”

“Keystone XL clearly passes President Obama’s climate test so opponents are scrambling to find any other way to slow down the process,’ said Katie Brown, spokeswoman for the pro-pipeline Oil Sands Fact Check.

“But their tactics won’t work: After five years of exhaustive study and numerous reports, the State Department has definitely said the pipeline will have a negligible effect on the environment,” Brown added. “Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of Americans, from all sides of the political spectrum, want the jobs, economic prosperity and energy security the pipeline would bring.”

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