State Department Inspector General Faults Keystone Approval Process

George Zornick
The Nation / News Report
Published: Saturday 11 February 2012
“The soundness of the State Department review is likely to come back into play in the future—President Obama has delayed, but not cancelled, a final decision on the project.”
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Yesterday, Politico’s website ran a story titled: “Keystone XL handled well by State Department, inspector general says.” The story asserted that “there is no evidence of conflict of interest or bias in the State Department’s review of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline.”

Well, not quite. The IG found that there wasn’t any technical conflict of interest when the State Department selected the firm Cardno Entrix to perform an environmental impact review of the project, but the report did highlight plenty of flaws in the review process—and also recommended the State Department change its contracting processes going forward.

Cardno Entrix had previously identified TransCanada, the company building the pipeline, as a “major client,” which would seem to be a clear conflict of interest. Among the report’s findings:

TransCanada influenced the State Department’s selection of Cardno Entrix. The report characterizes the influence as “minimal” and not “improper,” but does acknowledge TransCanada selected Cardno Entrix as its preferred company to perform the review. A rejoinder from one State Department employee in the report was simply that “we don’t care who TransCanada picks.”

The State Department failed “to perform any independent inquiry to verify Cardno Entrix’s organizational conflict of interest statements.”

TransCanada was not asked by the State Department to view and certify Cardno Entrix’s conflict of interest statements.

Overall, the review found that the State Department’s “limited technical resources expertise and experience” limited environmental review process. The officers in charge of the review, according to the report, had “little or no” experience with environmental law “and had to seek training and learn quickly on the job.”

The State Department has already agreed to tweak its contractor review process, but this won’t affect the official environmental impact statement that’s already been performed.

Opponents of Keystone XL, however, are using the report to make the case that the project isn’t environmentally sound, despite the State Department review. “The [IG] findings confirm once again why the project should not be rubber stamped for approval, despite efforts by Republicans in Congress to do just that,” said Senator Bernie Sanders. “The more we learn, the less merit there is to this project.”

The soundness of the State Department review is likely to come back into play in the future—President Obama has delayed, but not cancelled, a final decision on the project. And this week, a Republican-led House panel approved a bill to fast-track Keystone XL. That effort will probably die in the Senate, but Republicans could attach it as a poison pill in the massive transportation bill that Congress will presumably pass some time this year.



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ABOUT George Zornick

George grew up in Buffalo, NY and holds a B.A. in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Prior to joining The Nation, George was Senior Reporter/Blogger for ThinkProgress.org. He worked as a researcher for Michael Moore's SiCKO and as an Associate Producer on "The Media Project" on the Independent Film Channel. His work has been published in The Los Angeles Times, Media Matters, and The Buffalo News.

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3 comments on "State Department Inspector General Faults Keystone Approval Process"

Boris Badenov's picture
Boris Badenov

February 11, 2012 7:15pm

Well if it's not going to the US, Then it will go to China.
That's what Harpy Harper (Canadian PM) is doing and now there's talk of a free trade agreement for Canada and China.

This might be another pressure tactic by the Neo-Cons of Canada.

Arachne646

February 13, 2012 2:00am

There's no way we will allow a pipeline to cross First Nations' land and have tankers navigating our rocky and treacherous west coast no matter what PM Stephen Harper thinks! The opposition has hardly begun.

Ronni85

February 11, 2012 3:00pm

Perhaps WE should give serious consideration to disbanding the State Department!