Freedom of Information Act

FBI Advisory: Oil Trains At Risk of "Extremist" Attack, But Lacks "Specific Information" To Verify

A documentmarked “Confidential” and published a year ago today, on July 18, 2014, by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) concluded that “environmental extremists” could target oil-by-rail routes, as first reported on by McClatchyBut the Bureau also concedes upfront that it lacks “specific information” verifying this hunch.

Rail industry lobbying groups published the one-page FBI Private Sector Advisory as an exhibit to a jointly-submitted August 2014 comment sent to the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT), which has proposed “bomb trains” regulations currently under review by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA)

Hillary Clinton State Department Emails Contain Redacted Job Description for Top Energy Diplomat

The U.S. State Department released a batch of 3,000 searchable documents formerly stored on the private hard drive and in a private email account of Democratic Party presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Among them: a fully redacted job description for State Department International Energy Coordinator/Diplomat-At-Large.

David Goldwyn — now a fellow at the Atlantic Council, fellow at the Brookings Institution and head of Goldwyn Global Strategies — would eventually come to assume that role as head of the State Department's Bureau of Energy Resources, a Bureau that premiered under the watch of then-Secretary Clinton.

Public Interest Groups File FOIA Request To Compel Disclosure Of Crude Oil Export Ban Exceptions

Last month, DeSmogBlog broke the news that the Obama Administration was quietly letting oil companies export crude under the guise of “exceptions” to the crude oil export ban.

Now a coalition of public interest groups including Earthjustice, Oil Change International, and Sightline Institute says the public has a right to know what criteria the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) used in determining which crude oil streams were exempt from the ban, and has filed a Freedom Of Information Act request to find out.

With the price of oil cratering and that trend not likely to reverse soon thanks in large part to the glut of production in the US, oil companies are desperate to sell their crude on the global market, where it can potentially fetch higher prices. The catch, of course, is the crude oil export ban, a policy that’s been in place since 1975.

The oil industry has apparently decided that its usual means of influencing public policy—lobbying and advertising to sway public opinion in its favor—would take too much time and money, as Justin Mikulka wrote here on DeSmog.

So if you are the oil industry, you innovate. You call the oil you are producing condensate, get the regulators at the little known Bureau of Industry and Security to agree to not define what condensate actually is and then have them tell you that you as an industry are free to “self classify” your oil as condensate and export it.

Problem solved. Billions in profits made.

Big Rail Cites Bin Laden, Al Qaeda to Fend Off Oil-by-Rail Route Transparency

While many states around the U.S. have released information to the public about the frequency and routes of trains carrying oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin, holdouts still remain. 

Why the delay? Homeland security concerns, claim some companies. 

In an ongoing Maryland court case over the issue of transparency for in-state oil-by-rail routes, a July 23 affidavit from Carl E. Carbaugh — director of infrastructure security for Norfolk Southern — goes into extensive detail about the supposed risk presented by terrorism attacks on “Bomb Trains.” 

In so doing, Carbaugh mentions Al-Qaeda. 

The most recent edition of Inspire magazine, March 2014, the online, English-language propaganda publication of [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], presents a full-page collage depicting varied images…in order to construct an explosive device,” reads Carbaugh’s affidavit

Among these images are a derailed passenger train and a partly covered note paper listing cities in the [U.S.] as well as the terms ‘Dakota’ and ‘Train crude oil.’” 

Carbaugh also cited Osama bin Laden, the late Al-Qaeda international ring-leader, in his affidavit.

Among the materials seized in the May 1, 2011, raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, were notes indicating interest in ‘tipping’ or ‘toppling’ trains — that is causing their derailment,” Carbaugh wrote.

Osama Bin Laden Compound Diagram; Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

For Oil-By-Rail, a Battle Between “Right to Know” and “Need to Know”

Lac Megantic train explosion

Since the first major oil-by-rail explosion occurred on July 6, 2013, in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, citizens in communities across the U.S. have risen up when they've learned their communities are destinations for volatile oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin. 

As the old adage goes, ignorance is bliss. It's also one of the keys to how massive oil-by-rail infrastructure was built in just a few short years — the public simply didn't know about it. 

Often, oil companies are only required to get state-level air quality permits to open a new oil-by-rail facility.

Terry Wechsler, an environmental attorney in Washington, recently explained to Reuters why there was no opposition to the first three oil-by-rail facilities in the area.

“There was no opposition to the other three proposals only because we weren't aware they were in formal permitting,” he said

The same thing unfolded in Albany, N.Y., where there is an ongoing battle over expansion of the major oil-by-rail facility set to process tar sands crude sent by rail from Alberta. The initial permits for the oil rail transfer facility, which would allow two companies to bring in billions of gallons of oil a year, were approved with no public comment

US Court Denies Halt on Pipeline Set to Replace Keystone XL Northern Half

Flanagan south, keystone xl pipeline

The ever-wise Yogi Berra once quipped “It's like déjà vu all over again,” a truism applicable to a recent huge decision handed down by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. 

A story covered only by McClatchy News' Michael Doyle, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson shot down Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation's (NWF) request for an immediate injunction in constructing Enbridge's Flanagan South tar sands pipeline in a 60-page ruling.

That 600-mile long, 600,000 barrels per day proposed line runs from Flanagan, Illinois - located in the north central part of the state - down to Cushing, Oklahoma, dubbed the “pipeline crossroads of the world.” The proposed 694-mile, 700,000 barrels per day proposed Transcanada Keystone XL northern half also runs to Cushing from Alberta, Canada and requires U.S. State Department approval, along with President Barack Obama's approval. 

Because Flanagan South is not a border-crossing line, it doesn't require the State Department or Obama's approval. If Keystone XL's northern half's permit is denied, Flanagan South - along with Enbridge's proposal to expand its Alberta Clipper pipeline, approved by Obama's State Department during Congress' recess in August 2009 - would make up that half of the pipeline's capacity and then some. 

Friends of the Earth Sues State Department on Keystone XL FOIA Delay, DeSmog Requests White House Financial Disclosure Forms

Friends of the Earth-U.S. (FOE) has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. State Department for failing to expedite its April 2013 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking communications between TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline's influence peddlers and the agency tasked to make the final decision on KXL's northern half.  

FOE's request seeks records of communications between State - which FOE has yet to hear back from since the April expedition request denial - and a cadre of powerful lobbyists.

The most well-connected of the group is Anita Dunn, a principal at SDKnickberbocker, a senior advisor to Obama's 2012 reelection campaign and former communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under then-Senator Kerry. Dunn - who had over 100 private meetings with the Obama Admininistration between 2009 and 2012 according to a New York Times investigation - now does public relations on behalf of TransCanada at SDKnickberbocker.

Dunn's husband Robert “Bob” Bauer - President Obama's personal attorney, former White House Counsel for Obama, Counsel for the Democratic National Committee and election law attorney for Obama's 2012 reelection campaign - works at a law firm that does legal work on behalf of another TransCanada-owned pipeline, Alaska's South Central LNG.

DeSmogBlog submitted a FOIA request to the White House for the financial disclosure forms of Dunn and Bauer on July 5.

State Department Admits It Doesn't Know Keystone XL's Exact Route

Keystone XL's route is unknown

The State Department's decision to hand over control to the oil industry to evaluate its own environmental performance on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has led to a colossal oversight.

Neither Secretary of State John Kerry nor President Barack Obama could tell you the exact route that the pipeline would travel through countless neighborhoods, farms, waterways and scenic areas between Alberta's tar sands and oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

A letter from the State Department denying an information request to a California man confirms that the exact route of the Keystone XL export pipeline remains a mystery, as DeSmog recently revealed.

Generic maps exist on both the
State Department and TransCanada websites, but maps with precise GIS data remain the proprietary information of TransCanada and its chosen oil industry contractors. 

Thomas Bachand, a San Francisco-based photographer, author, and web developer discovered this the hard way. A year and a half after he first filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking the GIS data for his Keystone Mapping Project, Mr. Bachand received a troubling response from the State Department denying his request.

In the letter, the State Department admits that it doesn't have any idea about the exact pipeline route - and that it never asked for the basic mapping data to evaluate the potential impacts of the pipeline. 

Where will KXL intersect rivers or cross ponds that provide drinking water? What prized hunting grounds and fishing holes might be ruined by a spill? How can communities prepare for possible incidents? 

The U.S. State Department seems confident in letting the tar sands industry - led in this instance by TransCanada, whose notorious track record with Keystone 1 includes more than a dozen spills in its first year of operation - place its pipeline wherever it wishes.

“[State] does not have copies of records responsive to your request because the Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone pipeline project was created by Cardno ENTRIX under a contract financed by TransCanada Keystone Pipeline LP, and not the U.S. government,” reads the State Department's letter denying Bachand's information request.

Neither Cardno ENTRIX nor TransCanada ever submitted GIS information to the Department of State, nor was either corporation required to do so. The information that you request, if it exists, is therefore neither physically nor constructively under the control of the Department of State and we are therefore unable to comply with your FOIA request.”

As Mr. Bachand pointed out in a July 3 blog post: “Without this digital mapping information, the Keystone XL’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) are incomplete and cannot be evaluated for environmental impacts.”

Smoke and Mirrors: Obama DOE Fracked Gas Export Study Contractor's Tobacco Industry Roots

At first, it was kept secret for months, cryptically referred to only as an “unidentified third-party contractor.”

Finally, in November 2012, Reuters revealed the name of the corporate consulting firm the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) hired to produce a study on the prospective economic impacts of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports.

LNG is the super-chilled final product of gas obtained - predominatly in today's context - via the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process taking place within shale deposits located throughout the U.S. This “prize” is shipped from the multitude of domestic shale basins in pipelines to various coastal LNG terminals, and then sent on LNG tankers to the global market

The firm: National Economic Research Associates (NERA) Economic Consulting, has a long history of pushing for deregulation. Its claim to fame: the deregulation “studies” it publishes on behalf of the nuclear, coal, and oil/gas industry - and as it turns out, Big Tobacco, too.

Groups File Appeal Over State Department’s Refusal to Disclose Communications with Tar Sands Oil Lobbyist

Three watchdog groups filed an appeal today with the U.S. State Department over its refusal to release correspondence between the agency and a former high-ranking presidential campaign staffer for Hillary Clinton.  In his role as oil lobbyist, Paul Elliott is seeking Secretary of State Clinton’s approval for the controversial Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline that would bring 900,000 barrels of tar sands a day over 2,000 miles through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

The coalition, including Friends of the Earth, the Center for International Environmental Law, and Corporate Ethics International submitted a FOIA request in December [PDF] targeted at Elliott, now lead lobbyist for TransCanada, the company aiming to build the pipeline.  The request was rejected by the State Department, and Marcie Keever, legal director for Friends of the Earth, believes that the State Department did not have legitimate legal grounds to do so. 

For the groups, the failure of the State Department to comply with its responsibility under the Freedom of Information Act is worrying, and further calls into question Clinton’s capacity to remain impartial on the pipeline decision.

By refusing to disclose any documents, we contend that the State Department is violating the Freedom of Information Act,” said Keever.  “We are hopeful that with this appeal the State Department will release communications between the oil lobbyist and Secretary Clinton and her staffers.  If the agency doesn’t, we will take it to court if necessary.”


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