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Herald Editorial: Anti-Keystone activists squander public’s trust

Grand Forks Herald

Let’s start with the conclusion, as summarized by Reuters:

“The U.S. State Department’s inspector general said on Wednesday the department had acted properly in choosing a contractor to review the Keystone XL oil pipeline, clearing it of charges there was undue influence.”

Or as the inspector general’s own report put it, “OIG (Office of Inspector General) found that the process the Department used to select Environmental Resources Management (the contractor) … substantially followed its prescribed guidance and at times was more rigorous than that guidance.”

But let’s not stop there. Instead, let’s take a trip down memory lane, to review the environmentalists’ claims that had prompted the inspector general’s investigation in the first place.

Here is what various anti-Keystone XL Pipeline activists and groups had charged over the past year — charges of which the State Department now has been absolved:

* “ERM lied and has no business advising the Obama administration about the pipeline,” said Ross Hammond, senior campaigner with Friends of the Earth, in August.

* “The State Department’s ‘don’t worry’ environmental impact statement for the proposed Keystone XL tarsands pipeline … was written not by government officials but by a private company in the pay of the pipeline’s owner,” wrote Brad Johnson, campaign manager for Forecast the Facts and a former editor for ThinkProgress.

* “Instead of an honest look, the public got deception, perhaps not surprisingly given ERM’s historical contracting relationship with Big Tobacco,” wrote Steve Horn of DeSmogBlog.com, which bills itself as “clearing the PR pollution that clouds climate science.”

“ERM seems to have blatantly lied to the State Department — which apparently did no homework of its own, or turned a blind eye at least — and answered ‘no’ when questioned if it had done business with anyone tied to TransCanada in the past three years.”

* “Hiring an oil company contractor to review an oil pipeline that its clients have a financial interest in should be illegal — and it is,” wrote Gabriel Elsner of the Checks and Balances Project (“Holding government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public,” as the project’s website claims).

“The federal government has strict laws to avoid conflicts of interest and prevent the hiring of contractors who cannot provide unbiased services.”

* “Ever since TransCanada first applied for a permit to build the Keystone pipeline in 2008, the State Department’s handling of the review has been plagued by conflicts of interest, insider influence and a heavy pro-pipeline bias,” Friends of the Earth’s website claimed.

“Rather than being an impartial judge of whether the Keystone pipeline is in the national interest, the State Department has acted liked Big Oil’s best friend in Washington.”

To repeat, the State Department’s inspector general spent months investigating these claims. And as Reuters summarized, the investigators found that officials had “acted properly,” a finding that cleared the department “of charges of undue influence.”

There’s a story that anti-Keystone activists should remember before they launch yet another round of anti-pipeline claims. It’s the story of the boy who cried “Wolf!”

The boy’s alarm mobilized the town, but no wolf could be found. Then the pattern repeated itself again and again.

Before long, the townspeople stopped trusting the boy. And he regretted that fact mightily when a real wolf bounded onto the scene.

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