Already under fire for emails that show a cozy relationship between a TransCanada lobbyist and government officials, the State Department is now getting hammered for what appears to be a clear conflict of interest in the environmental review process for the proposed pipeline.
It turns out that Cardno Entrix, the environmental contractor that State hired to conduct its environmental impact analysis, has also done quite a bit of work for TransCanada, the Canadian energy company seeking to build the massive pipeline. TransCanada is listed as a "major client" for Cardno Entrix, and had employed the contractor in the past. The New York Times had the story over the weekend:
The department allowed TransCanada, the company seeking permission to build the 1,700-mile pipeline from the oil sands of northern Alberta to the Gulf Coast in Texas, to solicit and screen bids for the environmental study. At TransCanada’s recommendation, the department hired Cardno Entrix, an environmental contractor based in Houston, even though it had previously worked on projects with TransCanada and describes the pipeline company as a “major client” in its marketing materials.
While it is common for federal agencies to farm out environmental impact studies, legal experts said they were surprised the State Department was not more circumspect about the potential for real and perceived conflicts of interest on such a large and controversial project.
Perhaps this makes it less surprising, then, that the State Department's final environmental impact statement, released at the end of August, found "limited adverse environmental impacts" related to the pipeline. Cardno Entrix has also played a role in coordinating the public comment sessions on the pipeline, maintains the State Department's website for the project, and has even collected public comments about the project via email.