Environmentalists seek probe of feds’ Keystone XL review

Environmentalists today are imploring federal investigators to probe State Department officials’ connections to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would carry oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to Gulf Coast refineries.

The move by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and nine other environmental organizations comes as the State Department enters the final stages in its broad review of whether the pipeline project is in the national interest.

The groups want the State Department’s inspector general to examine whether there was any wrongdoing or “abuse of authority” by officials involved in vetting the project. Fifteen lawmakers sent a similar request to the inspector general earlier this week.

Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica said there is evidence that the entire review process has been “corrupted by bias, lobbyist influence and conflicts of interest.”

“There is a body of evidence that we have discovered … that indicate that the State Department cannot make this decision in an unbiased way,” Pica said. “There is enough cause for concern that the public process, the scientific process and the regulatory proces has been violated in many ways — that this has been a bad process from the beginning.”

Government e-mails obtained by Friends of the Earth revealed a State Department employee cheering on TransCanada’s top lobbyist as he worked to build support for the company’s pipeline.

“State Department employees have demonstrated a deep pro-industry bias,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

Frances Beinecke, head of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said it is important that Americans have confidence that the government is fairly reviewing a project that has serious implications for the nation’s energy future.

If approved, Keystone XL would deliver crude harvested from oil sands projects in Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast and expand an existing TransCanada Corp. pipeline network that now ends in Cushing, Okla. The project also would provide a new route for oil extracted from the Bakken shale in Montana to reach refineries in southeast Texas.

Oil industry representatives insist that the $7 billion project would bolster America’s energy security, by allowing the U.S. to import more crude from a friendly North American ally instead of the Middle East — all while giving a boost to the nation’s ailing economy.

But environmental activists, native Americans and religious leaders say the 36-inch pipeline would jeopardize drinking water supplies in the nation’s heartland and keep the U.S. dependent on a form of bituminous oil that takes more energy to extract than other fossil fuels.

Thousands of demonstrators are expected to ring the White House in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 6 to protest the pipeline.

The State Department had pledged to make its national interest determination on the pipeline by the end of the year, but recent reports suggest it may not meet that timeline. If the State Department ultimately decides the project is in the national interest, other Cabinet-level agencies would have a chance to weigh in. If any disagree, the final permitting decision would rest in President Barack Obama’s hands.

Obama told protesters at an event earlier this week that no final decision had been made.

Environmentalists say they won’t stop fighting — both in courtrooms and along the pipeline route — if the project is approved.

“Once a decision is made — if an affirmative decision is made — we would . . . consider challenging the permit as well as the decision-making process,” Beinecke said.

Brune said the president can anticipate a vigorous fight, with protesters engaged in civil disobedience along the pipeline route. Although the Sierra Club doesn’t engage in civil disobedience, Brune said he anticipated people putting their bodies in the way of bulldozers.

“If the president were to approve the pipeline, this will be a fight that will stretch out for years into the future,” he said.

If he approves the pipeline, Obama “can be assured we will continue to pursue a variety of strategies, from work in the courts, to lobbying and organizing within state governments, particularly in Nebraska and down in Texas where we are working with the Tea Party,” Brune said. “There will be an organized strategy to keep this pipeline from being built.”

Brune also warned that a decision in favor of Keystone XL could alienate environmentalists who otherwise could be an important force at the ballot box next November.

“Our members . . . are saying we will work for you and we will work for the president when he works for us,” Brune said. “Our ability to turn out our membership is heavily dependent on the decisions the president will be making over the next several months.”

Request for IG Investigation of State Department’s Keystone XL Review