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State Department Keystone XL Contractor ERM Bribed Chinese Agency to Permit Project

Read time: 4 mins

Environmental Resources Management (ERM Group), the consultancy selected by TransCanada to conduct the environmental review for Keystone XL's northern leg on behalf of the U.S. State Department, is no stranger to scandal.

Exhibit A: ERM once bribed a Chinese official to ram through major pieces of an industrial development projectERM was tasked to push through the project in Hangzhou Bay, located near Shanghai.

Accepting the bribe landed Yan Shunjun, former deputy head of the Shanghai Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, an
11-year prison sentence.

Yan “allegedly took bribes of 864,000 yuan (126,501 U.S. dollars), 20,000 U.S. dollars and 4,000 euros from seven contractors,” explained Xiuhuanet. “Yan was also accused of illegally setting up a channel to speed up environmental impact assessment processes, which are essential for companies wanting to build factories.”

BP, one of the companies standing to gain if Keystone XL North receives a presidential permit from the Obama administration as a major Alberta tar sands producer, was also mired in the Chinese ERM Group scandal. 

“Two firms on ERM's bluechip client list, BP and Sinopec, are big investors in a petrochemical complex on the site, but the Chinese authorities apparently saw no conflict of interest in awarding the environmental evaluation to ERM,” explained London's Sunday Times.

In a sense, history has repeated itself.

State Department's Keystone XL Contractor ERM Approved Project Now Melting Glaciers

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A controversial government contractor once again finds itself in hot water, or in this case, melting glacier water.

TransCanada chose Environmental Resources Management Group (ERM) as one of its contractors to conduct the environmental impact statement for Keystone XL on behalf of the U.S. State Department. ERM Group also happens to have green-lighted a gold mining project in central Asia that is now melting glaciers.

ERM Group has a penchant for rubber-stamping projects that have had tragic environmental and public health legacies. For example, ERM formerly worked on behalf of the tobacco industry to pitch the safety of its deadly product.

A January 2014 study about Keystone XL's climate change impacts published in the journal Nature Climate Change paints a drastically different picture than ERM Group's Keystone XL tar sands study.

The Kumtor Gold Mineowned by Centerra Gold/Cameco Corporation, was provided a stamp of approval from ERM Group in October 2012. Similar to the TransCanada arrangement with the State Department on Keystone XL, Centerra served as the funder of the report evaluating its own project. 

ERM Group Melting Glaciers

“The mine sits at an altitude of 4,000 meters above sea level, in the Tien Shan mountain range and among some of Kyrgyzstan's - and the region's - most important glaciers,” explained an October 28 story published in Asia Times.

“Centerra Gold has consistently dismissed as untrue that operations at Kumtor have had negative implications for the glaciers, which are reportedly melting with observable speed due to years of dumping rock tailings onto the ice sheet. The Canadian company has backed its position with expert evaluations from consultancies such as Environmental Resources Management.” 

WHITEWASH: State Dept Keystone XL Inspector General Report Clears Botched Handling of Environmental Resources Management Conflicts

Read time: 6 mins

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. 

On first look, the inspector general report takes an extremely narrow view of the potential conflicts, but does declare that the department's procedures for dealing with conflicts of interest are weak and need to be improved. 
 

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

appropriate information.

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. 

Tom Steyer to Secretary of State Kerry: New Review Necessary of "Defective" Keystone XL Environmental Assessment

Read time: 6 mins

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:

Keystone XL Decision Highlights Coziness Between Oil and Gas Industry, Obama Administration

Read time: 7 mins

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.

State Department Releases Flawed Keystone XL Final Environmental Review In Super Bowl Friday Trash Dump

Read time: 7 mins

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.

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