Earlier this month the State Department released yet another iteration of an environmental impact statement for the Keystone XL Pipeline. It concluded, unsurprisingly, that the Keystone Pipeline would be unlikely to increase net greenhouse gas emissions. This conclusion, consistent with previous analyses by the State Department, is because if the pipeline was not built then railroad capacity would increase in its place. The net oil produced and consumed would be quite similar. This was completely predictable and an argument made many times by proponents of the pipeline.
Now that reality has yet again collided with their hopes and dreams, environmentalists are grasping at straws. They are now complaining that the consulting company hired by the State Department is tarnished because the company has also done consulting work in the past for TransCanada. From Politico:
Pipeline opponents contend the State Department has brushed aside their concerns that the contractor, Environmental Resources Management, was too closely aligned with the oil industry to fairly judge the risks — and that the department itself has failed to properly vet the company.
“There is no smoking gun, but there are a lot of things that we know are true,” Doug Hayes, an attorney at Sierra Club who has been involved in litigation forcing the State Department to disclose internal documents about its Keystone review. What activists have uncovered raises “serious questions about the integrity of the environmental review” that should give Secretary of State John Kerry and Obama more to consider, he said.
“They have everything before them to reject this pipeline,” Hayes said.
But the State Department rejected charges that it hasn’t properly vetted ERM.
An official said in an email that the department’s “guidance on conflicts of interest for third-party contractors is the strongest of any U.S. government agency. That guidance was applied rigorously and effectively in determining that ERM did not have a conflict of interest. We are confident that no conflicts of interest between ERM and TransCanada exist.”
Anti-Keystone activists are hoping a soon-to-be-released report from State’s inspector general on their conflict-of-interest allegations will provide some validation. But they may be in for a disappointment.
Citing unnamed sources, The Washington Post reported Friday that a draft version of the report “suggests the agency examine its conflict-of-interest process but does not find that State Department officials violated agency rules in retaining” ERM.
The issue, I suspect, is there just isn’t that big of a market to support the existence of firms who are able to produce legitimate research predicting the likely emissions from oil pipelines contingent upon the price of oil, the price of rail, etc. And the few firms that are capable of doing this are also going to be lending their expertise to the companies (TransCanada) involved in the pipeline.
Regardless, this report would seem to again nudge Obama in the direction of approving the pipeline. But it’s been clear for a while that the decision will be a political decision, so its hard to be certain. The politics would seem to lean in the direction of building the pipeline. Republicans almost unilaterally support the pipeline, while some Democratic interest groups (i.e., the AFL-CIO) support the pipeline while most environmental groups oppose it.