Heather Zichal, former top climate and energy aide to President Barack Obama his top aide in crafting his 2008 presidential campaign energy platform, has joined the industry-funded Atlantic Council as a fellow at its Global Energy Center.
The U.S. State Department recently announced that Amos Hochstein, currently the special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs, will take over as the State Department's top international energy diplomat.
Hochstein will likely serve as a key point man for the U.S. in its negotiations to cut a climate change deal as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), both at the ongoing COP20 summit in Lima, Peru and next year's summit in Paris, France. Some conclude the Lima and Paris negotiations are a “last chance” to do something meaningful on climate change.
But before getting a job at the State Department, where Hochstein has worked since 2011, he worked as a lobbyist for the firm Cassidy & Associates. Cassidy's current lobbying client portfolio consists of several fossil fuel industry players, including Noble Energy, Powder River Energy and Transwest Express.
Back when Hochstein worked for Cassidy, one of his clients was Marathon Oil, which he lobbied for in quarter two and quarter three of 2008, according to lobbying disclosure forms reviewed by DeSmogBlog.
Hochstein earned his firm $20,000 each quarter lobbying the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate on behalf of Marathon.
Image Credit: Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives
The State Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has finally weighed in on potential conflicts of interest in the environmental assessments of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Sort of.
The office just released its long-anticipated report, capping off an investigation on whether Environmental Resources Management, the contractor hired by TransCanada to conduct the environmental impact study, had too close a relationship with TransCanada, and whether it deliberately hid those ties in filings with the State Department.
Specifically, from the OIG's findings:
- OIG did find that the process for documenting the contractor selection process, including the conflict of interest review, can be improved.
- OIG also found that the Department’s public disclosures concerning its conflict of interest review could be improved.
Finally, the Office of the Inspector General makes these specific recommendations:
- OIG recommends that the Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, in coordination with the Office of the Legal Adviser, enhance its guidance to more fully articulate its selection and conflict of interest review processes.
- OIG recommends that the Department explain in greater detail the definition of “organizational conflict of interest” relied upon by the Department.
- OIG recommends that the Department specify in its guidance the documentation required in the contractor selection and conflict of interest processes and establish standard operating procedures to capture and retain this information.
- OIG recommends that the Department enhance its guidance to integrate a process for public disclosure of
Attention will now turn to the Government Accountability Office, which will begin an investigation on the State Department's environmental review process. Earlier this week, Representative Raúl Grijalva of Arizona requested a GAO review, suggesting that the Keystone XL environmental assessment has been corrupted by conflicts of interest. “Nothing should be glossed over; nothing should be ignored,” Grijalva said. “The questions that we posed to GAO had to do with the State Department process. And if this is a tainted process, I suggest the president at that point shouldn't trust that information,”
DeSmogBlog will take a closer look at all the details in the report and update this post throughout the evening.
With the State Department’s release of the final Keystone XL environmental review, attention is being refocused on apparent conflicts of interest within both the State Department itself and the consultancy hired to conduct the review.
Upon the release of the review – which is formally called the final supplemental environmental impact statement (or FSEIS) – Tom Steyer of NextGen Climate urged Secretary of State John Kerry to begin a formal review of the “defective” environmental analysis. In his February 2 letter to Secretary Kerry, Steyer writes that “It is inappropriate and unfair to provide President Obama … with a report that is not only on its face defective, but which has suffered from a process that raises serious questions about the integrity of the document.”
The review, argues Steyer, “has suffered from a process that raises serious questions about the integrity of the document.”
In his letter, Steyer lays out the following problems, which he argues undermine the entirety of the environmental impact statement:
This past week was good to the oil and gas industry. First, President Obama talked up jobs gains from drilling and labeled natural gas a “bridge fuel” in his State of the Union address, using terminology favored by natural gas advocates.
Then, on Friday, the Obama administration released a much-awaited assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts which concluded that pipeline construction “remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands,” effectively turning a blind eye to the staggering carbon emissions from tar sands extraction and expansion plans.
While Mr. Obama’s warm embrace of fossil fuels surprised some environmentalists, it should come as little surprise in light of prior comments made by the CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API).
“It's our expectation it will be released next week,” Jack Gerard confidently told Reuters, referring to the Keystone XL assessment, while many were still speculating that the report might not be issued until after the November mid-term election. “We're expecting to hear the same conclusion that we've heard four times before: no significant impact on the environment.”
Mr. Gerard added that these predictions were based on sources within the administration.
In fact, as the Keystone decision-making process has unfolded, the oil and gas industry has had — as they’ve enjoyed for decades — intensive access to decision-making in the White House. This access has helped form the Obama administration’s schizophrenic energy policy, in which the President backs both renewable energy and fossil fuels without acknowledging that the two are competitors. When fossil fuels gain market share, renewables lose.
While even the World Bank has called for immediate action on climate change, the API, which has worked hard to shape Obama’s views on fossil fuels, has also worked to create doubt around the very concept of fossil-fuel-driven climate change and to downplay the impact their industry has had.
There’s no question that the oil and gas industry wields enormous sway inside Washington D.C.
The API has spent $9.3 million dollars this year alone on reportable lobbying expenses, the highest amount in the group’s history, according to data from OpenSecrets.org. This summer, a DeSmog investigation found that API spent $22.03 million dollars lobbying at the federal level on Keystone XL and/or tar sands issues since June 2008, when the pipeline project was first proposed.
The State Department has released the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the proposed northern leg of the controversial and long-embattled TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
In a familiar “Friday trash dump” — a move many expected the Obama administration to shun — John Kerry's State Department chose to “carefully stage-manage the report's release” on Super Bowl Friday when most Americans are switching focus to football instead of political scandals. **See bottom of this post for breaking analysis**
Anticipating the report’s release, insiders who had been briefed on the review told Bloomberg News the SEIS – not a formal decision by the State Department on the permitting of the pipeline, but rather another step in the department’s information gathering – “will probably disappoint environmental groups and opponents of the Keystone pipeline.”
And, indeed, the new report reads: “Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States.”
This reiterates one of the earlier draft’s most heavily criticized conclusions that the pipeline is “unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands,” and thus avoids a comprehensive assessment of those climate impacts.
In June 2013, President Obama said in a speech announcing his Climate Action Plan at Georgetown University that he would only approve the permit if it was proven that “this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”
The final environmental review is being released on the heels of damning revelations about the close ties between the Canadian pipeline builder, TransCanada and Environmental Resources Management (ERM). ERM was hired by the State Department to conduct the environmental review.
Although TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has received the lion's share of media attention, another key border-crossing pipeline benefitting tar sands producers was approved on November 19 by the U.S. State Department.
Enter Cochin, Kinder Morgan's 1,900-mile proposed pipeline to transport gas produced via the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of the Eagle Ford Shale basin in Texas north through Kankakee, Illinois, and eventually into Alberta, Canada, the home of the tar sands.
Like Keystone XL, the pipeline proposal requires U.S. State Department approval because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border. Unlike Keystone XL - which would carry diluted tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) south to the Gulf Coast - Kinder Morgan's Cochin pipeline would carry the gas condensate (diluent) used to dilute the bitumen north to the tar sands.
“The decision allows Kinder Morgan Cochin LLC to proceed with a $260 million plan to reverse and expand an existing pipeline to carry an initial 95,000 barrels a day of condensate,” the Financial Post wrote.
“The extra-thick oil is typically cut with 30% condensate so it can move in pipelines. By 2035, producers could require 893,000 barrels a day of the ultra-light oil, with imports making up 786,000 barrels of the total.”
Increased demand for diluent among Alberta's tar sands producers has created a growing market for U.S. producers of natural gas liquids, particularly for fracked gas producers.
“Total US natural gasoline exports reached a record volume of 179,000 barrels per day in February as Canada's thirst for oil sand diluent ramped up,” explained a May 2013 article appearing in Platts. ”US natural gasoline production is forecast to increase to roughly 450,000 b/d by 2020.”
Make private companies happy. Don’t worry about the environment. Stop fretting about long-term sustainability. Forget renewables, property concerns, the safety of our water and air. Make private companies happy.
This was the 43rd president's message to the current administration at the DUG East conference held by the shale gas industry on Thursday.
With characteristic bluntness, George W. Bush spoke his mind on energy policy to several thousand oil and gas executives gathered in Pittsburgh at an exclusive luncheon on Wednesday.
“I think the goal of the country ought to be 'how do we grow the private sector?'” Mr. Bush said. “That ought to be the laser-focus of any administration. And therefore, once that’s the goal, an issue like Keystone pipeline becomes a no-brainer.”
“If private sector growth is the goal and Keystone pipeline creates 20,000 new private sector jobs, build the damn thing,” Mr. Bush said, prompting a burst of applause from the more than 4,000 oil and gas executives attending the conference.
In his candor, Mr. Bush also highlighted the essence of what burns bright but short in the fossil-fuel doctrine.
In emphasizing a get-it-now, don’t-worry-about-the-future approach to energy, he drove home why the Keystone XL pipeline has become such a lightning rod issue. The reason: it is symbolic of the overall short-sightedness of increasing our long-term addiction to oil rather than pushing with urgency toward renewable energy.
Ezra Levant is the man behind an attempt to re-frame the Alberta tar sands as “ethical oil.” “Ethical” - Levant's deceptive public relations campaign argues of the tar sands “carbon bomb” - because it doesn't come from the war-ridden and human rights-abusing Middle East.
Now, the “ethical oil” campaign has a new backer: Anita Dunn, former White House Communications Director for President Barack Obama and current Principal of SKDKnickerbocker, a public relations firm with offices in Washington, D.C.; New York City and Albany.
SKDK - as covered here on multiple occasions by DeSmogBlog - does PR for Transcanada, the company behind the controversial Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline. Transcanada has paid SKDK - and by extension, Dunn - to place ads in strategic television and radio markets in the Washington, D.C. area.
“America imports millions of barrels of oil from the Middle East every week,” a narrator says in an ominous tone in the most recent ad, as images of violent protests in the Middle East blare across the screen. “But we don’t have to.”
The T.V. ad then switches to serene music and landscape views with pipeline stretched across it, alluding to “ethical oil” coming from Canada if the northern half of Transcanada's Keystone XL pipeline is approved by both the U.S. State Department and President Barack Obama.
The radio ad - also singing the “ethical oil” tune - claims that building the northern half of the Keystone XL will create “over 40,000 good American jobs.” Independent studies point to it creating 35 full-time jobs and 3,950 temporary construction jobs.
The New York Times explained that Transcanada paid Dunn and SKDK to place the “ethical oil“-style ad “to reach power players in Washington’s media market.”
Did the Obama administration's decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline just get delayed again? Quite possibly, since the State Department Inspector General announced today that it has delayed until January the release of its review of the scandals surrounding Environmental Resources Management, Inc., the contractor chosen by TransCanada to perform State's Keystone XL environmental review.
Although the State Department was evasive about whether the IG's announcement signals a delay in the administration's decision, it would seem odd for President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to decide on the fate of the KXL export pipeline without waiting for the results of this critical report.
Bloomberg News and The Hill broke the news about the delay, and all signs point to the fact that State's “inquiry” has morphed into a thorough conflicts-of-interest investigation into ERM's financial ties to TransCanada and other scandals.
Ever since the March 2013 release of the State Department's environmental impact statement, critics have pointed to ERM Group's historical ties to Big Tobacco, its green-lighting of controversial projects in Peru and the Caspian Sea, and its declaration that a tar sands refinery in Delaware made the air “cleaner,” among many other industry-friendly rulings.
Worst of all, perhaps - and potentially in violation of federal law - ERM Group lied on its State Department contract, claiming it had no business ties to TransCanada and the tar sands industry. The facts showed otherwise.
This latest development certainly raises the prospect of a further delay, if not another sign that the Keystone XL will be rejected by President Obama.