Dept. of State’s Keystone Conflict

Construction on the existing Keystone pipeline.Imago/ZUMA


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.

As the Times points out, this seems to be a violation of the National Environmental Protection Act, which outlines how agencies should undertake this kind of environmental review. It specifically states that the lead agency should be in charge of picking contractors, and that the companies those agencies contract with should not have any other financial ties to the project. It appears that Cardno Entrix has substantial financial ties to TransCanada, and would benefit from the pipeline’s approval.

This comes, of course, after the environmental group Friends of the Earth released a number of emails between Paul Elliot, the head lobbyist for TransCanada, and State Department officials showed close ties between the company and government officials. FOE and other environmental groups are arguing that this should disqualify State from making a fair decision on the pipeline.

Kerri-Ann Jones, the assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, batted back questions about the State Department’s handling of the pipeline consideration a press conference on Friday. “The Department of State is committed to an impartial, rigorous, transparent, and thorough examination to determine whether the Keystone XL is in the national interest,” Jones said.

This latest round of revelations is likely to fuel more criticism of State’s handling of the process, however.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.