Posts Tagged ‘United States Department of State’

Foreign Pipeline Owners Find a Way to Get Around Federal Permit Process

TransCanada is attempting to outsmart the State Department and bypass federal blocks by using two existing pipelines of poison after the State Department and President Obama delayed approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline permit amidst concerns about bias, conflicts of interest, and environmental issues,  If implemented the pipeline of poison will pose serious threats to Texas water resources that supply 12 million in East Texas and the Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston metropolises, and our climate.  The groups are urging Texans to contact their local and state officials and ask them to stop the pipelines of poison.

“TransCanada is attempting to mislead the public and circumvent the regulatory mandates of Presidential approval, environmental review and public participation,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen.  “They are now proposing to connect their Gulf Coast Segment (from Cushing, OK to Port Arthur and Houston, TX) into the end of their existing Keystone 1 pipeline.  Make that foreign tar sands corporations – 1: the United States – 0.”

“We also believe that Enbridge also plans to do the same by connecting their proposed Wrangler pipeline that runs from Cushing, OK to Houston TX to their existing Spearhead pipeline system that runs from Canada to Cushing, OK. It would be a serious mistake to allow these pipelines to carry toxic tar sands across Texas land,” continued Smith.

Threats to Texas Water Sources

These two pipelines of poison – TransCanada’s Gulf Coast Segment and Enbridge’s Wrangler – would pose serious threats to Texas water resources, including aquifers, drinking and agricultural water resources for up to 12 million Texans in Dallas, Houston and East Texas.

Tar Sands Pipeline Affected Texas WaterwaysTransCanada’s pipeline would cross the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, the Trinity Aquifer and the Gulf Coast Aquifer.  It would traverse 16 large rivers several of which are listed as sensitive and protected, and cross over more than 130 designated floodplain areas in Texas.  These rivers and drainages feed 21 lakes and municipal reservoirs, including Pat Mayse Lake, Lake Tyler and Lake Cypress Springs.

“TransCanada’s Keystone 1 pipeline has already leaked 14 times in its first year,” said Chris Wilson, a chemical engineering consultant for opponents of the pipeline.  “How can we trust them to build it better and not endanger the waterways in Texas?”

In 2011, one of Enbridge’s pipelines leaked over 1 million gallons of tar sands into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.  Clean-up efforts have cost over $700 million, it’s still not cleaned-up and people and animals are sick and communities are poisoned.

“Sadly, this is what happens when there are no federal pipeline safety regulations and effective cleanup procedure for toxic tar sands spills,” continued Ms. Wilson.  “Tar sands are not like crude oil which floats on water, they are heavier and they sink, making cleanup much more difficult if not impossible.  Congress should protect the public and put an immediate halt on all tar sands pipelines until studies are completed, safety regulations are enacted and effective spill remediation procedures are put in place.”

Other Threats to Texas

“Despite the fact that TransCanada and Enbridge imply that they might not have to undergo environmental review our analysis has identified several major environmental hazards and key red flags to the project that are cause for concern and require addressing,” said Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition.  “These include:

  • Toxic spills that would threaten drinking and agricultural water resources for up to 12 million Texans in Dallas, Houston and East Texas;
  • Exposure to benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons(PAH’S) and heavy metals;
  • Increases in toxic refinery emissions, greenhouse gases, climate change and associated Environmental Justice issues in the end of market refinery communities in Texas;
  • Increases in refinery wastewater toxicity, toxic solid waste volume and spent catalyst toxicity ;
  • Lack of federal safety pipeline standards and spill remediation standards for tar sands pipelines;
  • Drought and wildfire in Texas;
  • Lack of Emergency Response Plans for volunteer fire departments to address pipeline fires; and
  • Eminent domain abuses, threats and bullying of TX landowners.”

Threats to the Health of Texans

The crude oil that would flow through the pipeline is known as diluted bitumen, or dilbit.  Federal safety officials don’t know precisely which chemicals TransCanada mixes with bitumen to create dilbit, including the levels of benzene used in the diluents. And even industry groups can’t say exactly how corrosive dilbit is.

“The U.S. EPA raised serious health risks over benzene in the diluents in a June 2011 letter to the U.S. State Department based on ambient air data at the Kalamazoo river spill”, stated Dr. Neil Carman, Clean Air Program Director of the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter.  “In a tar sands pipeline spill Benzene easily volatilizes into the air at ambient temperatures allowing inhalation exposure to occur, its toxicity results in immediate health effects in the low parts per billion range.  Benzene also poses a water contamination risk at low concentrations.”

“These characteristics make benzene the most dangerous chemical to human health in a tar sands pipeline spill because it is a known human carcinogenic agent,” Carman emphasized.  “Short-term benzene exposures may cause a variety of health effects, including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, narcosis, reduction in blood pressure, and central nervous system depression as reported in Michigan from the Kalamazoo tar sands spill in July 2010 where high levels (15,000 parts per billion) were measured in the air.”

Finally, Carman noted that, “Tar sands bitumen contains 11X more sulfur and nickel, 5X more lead, and higher levels of other toxic substances (arsenic, chromium, vanadium, boron, and zinc) compared to conventional crude oil.”  Carman concluded, “The higher toxicity of tar sands bitumen will result in increased toxic emissions in refinery communities already overburdened with too much air pollution where environmental justice issues have been ignored by the state and the oil firms.”

Threats to Air Quality and Climate Change

NASA’s James Hansen, a leading climate scientist who rang the first alarm bells nearly 30 years ago, has called the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline “game over” for the climate.

According to a recent US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assessment, tar sands emissions are approximately twice those of conventional oil, making tar sands well-to-tank emissions approximately 82% higher than conventional oil.

“Tar sands oil is far dirtier than conventional crude oil,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office.  “This will significantly increase emissions from Houston and Beaumont refineries, which will further put the region beyond the ability to meet federal air quality standards.”

“The DFW area won’t fare much better as pumps are situated at 20- to 100-mile-intervals along the length of the pipeline to “push” the tar sands crude,” continued Smith. “Pipeline pumps may be powered by burning diesel or natural gas, or by using electricity (which may come from burning natural gas or coal at power plants that feed the area).  This will add to the emissions blowing into the DFW area.”

What Can Be Done If Foreign Corporations Circumvent U.S. Regulatory Process

Texans should contact their elected officials regarding their concerns about TransCanada’s Gulf Coast and Enbridge’s Wrangler proposed tar sands pipelines and they should ask their elected officials to join together to protect Texans from the dangers of toxic tar sands pipeline spills and impacts to end-of-market refinery communities.  The Texas Legislature needs to study tar sands, hold interim hearing about tar sands and work together with their constituents to assure that Texans water, air, land and health are not harmed by toxic tar sands.


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Public Citizen joins Texas pipeline opponents in applauding the Obama administration’s decision for a “re-do” on the environmental impact statement and routing decisions for the proposed TransCanada tarsands pipeline.

This is a decision that came quickly on the heels of the U.S. State Department’s Inspector General’s announcement that they were launching an investigation into the alledged bias and conflict of interest citizen’s had complained about in the hearing process.  Click here to read our earlier blog.  At the hearing in Austin, after speakers who had been there for hours were cut off, one man was arrested for complaining about the process (Click here to read that blog post) and many at that hearing were questioning the facilitators about who they were and what exactly was their relationship to the State Department.

“The U.S. State Department’s contractor Cardno Entrix had severe conflicts of interests and their bias showed. They ignored the potential damages to our drinking water, air safety and climate in the Texas section of their environmental impact statement. The hearings they held on the plan were unfair and biased against opponents. Instead of fair hearings – opponents were cut off, the hearings were ended before the witnesses were heard, and those who objected were arrested,” said David Daniel, a land owner whose property lies along the pipeline route through Texas.

“Texas will be the state most endangered by leaks from the pipeline and the pollution from refining. We don’t need this pipeline or any additional proposed diluted bitumen pipeline, Texas refinery communities are already over-burdened by toxic refinery pollution and environmental justice concerns arise from further burdens to these end of market refinery communities in Texas,” said Chris Wilson, a chemical engineer working with Public Citizen in opposing the pipeline.

Ms. Wilson continued, “We don’t need this pipeline, and shouldn’t be running the risk for the temporary jobs it will create. This pause will allow us to rationally review the risks.”

Political experts are postulating that the Obama administration, the Canadian government and TransCanada made the mistake of glossing over the environmental issues in their haste to push this project through.

However, as the political pressure on his administration grew and consious that they didn’t want environmentalists staying home on election day, Obama himself acknowledged the health and environmental risks.

“Folks in Nebraska, like all across the country, aren’t going to say to themselves, ‘We’ll take a few thousand jobs if it means our kids are potentially drinking water that would damage their health,’” Obama said in Nov. 2 interview with Nebraska TV station KETV. “We don’t want, for example, aquifers to be adversely affected.

The delay is an opportunity for a more “sober” and“rigorous” assessment of the pipeline on all sides, outside of the politicized climate of a presidential election campaign and we think it needs to made clear here that that any costs this puts on TransCanada are their own fault for lobbying to diminish oversight and cut corners in the permitting process. They took a chance hoping it would reduce their costs and it ended up backfiring because the corner cutting was too egregious and caused thus delay.

The risks taken by TransCanada were not the government’s concern, the health and well being of its citizens are their concern. In free markets risks are sometimes punished and sometimes rewarded.

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Last month we wrote about what appeared to be conflicts of interest in the facilitation of the U.S. Department of State’s public hearings (one of which took place in Austin, TX), and the environmental impact analysis of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline that would transport Canadian tar sands 1,700 miles to Texas refineries.  Keystone XL is now coming under scrutiny for bias and conflicts of interest by the State Department’s inspector general.

The investigation was announced by the inspector general in Washington on Tuesday, November 8th, and was prompted by a Congressional request headed by U.S. Senator Bernard Sanders (D-Vermont) and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn).

Environmental critics are particularly interested in the state department’s hiring of Cardno Entrix of Texas to help prepare an analysis of the environmental impact of the project and facilitating the public hearings around the country. The company had a preexisting business relationship with the pipeline’s builder, Trans Canada.

The inspector general’s memorandum and the Congressional request for the investigation can be read by clicking here.

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Austinites rally outside campaign headquarters in solidarity with 12,000 in DC

Protestors spell out their message. “SAY NO TO TARSANDS!” – Photo by Don Mason  (http://ow.ly/7nbjY)

AUSTIN, TX – Campaign staff and volunteers working for  President Obama’s re-election got an earful from environmentalists in Austin on  Monday, one day after 12,000 people encircled the White House in Washington DC to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

“He has given every indication that this decision is his to make,” said Hope Philips, one of the protestors at the rally. “So we’re here to  tell him to stick to his campaign promises and ‘end the tyranny of oil.’”

Many of the signs at both protests featured quotes from President Obama’s 2008 campaign when he made bold claims about reducing oil dependence to the delight of young voters and environmentalists.

Protestor holding the President to his own words

Between chants protestors celebrated signs their actions are making headway in the fight against the tar sands pipeline.

“Just today the inspector general of the US State Department agreed to investigate the environmental assessment process. The relationships between TransCanada and the State Department were too cozy resulting in a deeply flawed process,” said Chris Wilson, a retired chemical engineer who recently authored a report criticizing the State Department’s environmental  impact study.

The Austin protest drew out about 50 people who directed
their voices towards the campaign’s offices inside a small building on the  corner of East 6th and Navasota St. During the protest two representatives from the group were invited in to speak with Hector Nieto, Texas director of  Obama for America.

“It was a good conversation and I think the local and state leaders get why this is an important issue,” said Adam Hammick, one of the two representatives and a volunteer with 350.org. “They promised to take our message straight to the top of the campaign food chain, so we hope the message gets through to the President.”

Monday’s protest comes only a week after a widely reported “oil zombie” themed Halloween protest at City Hall, and organizers show no signs of slowing down. On Saturday November 12th they plan to join forces with Occupy Austin to hold a march on Citigroup who they accuse of helping to fund tar sands giant TransCanada. Then on November 28th they plan to return to the campaign headquarters along with organizers in all 50 states who will be demonstrating outside of local campaign offices.

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Four environmental groups are preparing a lawsuit that alleges the Obama administration has not adequately studied how the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline would affect several endangered species.

The Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council and Nebraska Wildlife Federation sent a formal notice of intent to sue Thursday to the State Department – which is heading the federal review of the project – and several other agencies stating, “State and [the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] have failed to conduct formal consultation to consider the effects of the Keystone XL Pipeline project (Project) to the Whooping Crane, Interior Least Tern, Piping Plover, Western Prairie Fringed Orchid, Pallid Sturgeon, and Arkansas River Shiner.”

The State Department picked a company called Cardno Entrix to help carry out the environmental impact statement on the Keystone pipeline.  Cardno Entrix listed among its chief clients …TransCanada.  And this apparent conflict puts in question the final report that came out in late August, stating the pipeline would have “no significant impact” on the nearby land and water resources.  The State Department hopes to make a final decision by the end of the year and the letter of notice of intent to sue is designed to ensure the option to litigate if the permit is issued.

The groups, in the letter, allege the “biological assessment” prepared alongside the EIS and a subsequent “biological opinion” prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were shoddy in their analysis of the pipeline’s effect on the species and that the unduly narrow analysis omits impacts such as the effects of habitat fragmentation from the Pipeline’s pump sites, construction camps, and power lines.”

The planned lawsuit comes in addition to separate, ongoing litigation by three other groups: the Center for Biological Diversity, the Western Nebraska Resources Council and Friends of the Earth.

That litigation, filed in a Nebraska federal court, was expanded through an amended complaint this week that alleges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “unreasonably and unlawfully concurred that the Pipeline is ‘not likely to adversely affect’ endangered and threatened species.”

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Solyndra was the pie in the face, but Keystone XL is the rake in the yard the White House needs to avoid.

Approval of controversial pipeline is bad for the environment, and bad politics, as it would offend not just environmentalists, but voters of all stripes across America’s heartland who would have the pipeline run through their backyards. It is another ethics landmine that would invite more attack from the WH’s political enemies about pay to play politics– this time because of copious amounts of Big Oil influence-peddling. 

We’ve previously talked about Solyndra. It’s not a problem with solar or of federal investment, but of questions about campaign finance and due diligence, problems which also exist in the much larger loan program for nuclear, especially when nuclear energy companies have been such big campaign backers of Obama’s.

In fact, worth reading is Brad Plummer’s Five Myths About Solyndra from the Washington Post, a great take from Climate Progress about the Solyndra timeline showing the  and this post from Blue Virginia showing there’s plenty of blame to go across the partisan aisle for this mess.

Money in politics will ALWAYS create these problems.  You can see here how a wireless company was trying to trade on their big dollar donations to get access to the White House.  This is why Obama must champion REAL campaign finance reform, specifically full disclosure of all independent expenditures and public financing options for people running for Congress.

But that is a tough legislative mountain to climb– and not one that it seems the White House has the intestinal fortitude for, given their willingness to always “compromise” (read: capitulate) to the Powers That Be. But those Powers That Be don’t Be without the steady stream of money they pour into campaign coffers, so its unlikely that Obama would rush to reform that system that has, so far at least, worked out better for him than his opponents.

So while it is unlikely Obama can avoid the ethical morass and swampland that is money for access and favors, one landmine he can avoid in approving the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring the world’s dirtiest oil from Canada to Texas.

Not only should we be seriously questioning the safety and integrity of our pipeline system after spills from as far afield as downtown Salt Lake City to Kalamazoo to Yellowstone National Park, but this graphic from the New York Times shows the large spills we’ve had all over the country just from existing pipelines

The other question is obviously one of addiction. If we are to take seriously the metaphor of an addiction to oil, then Keystone XL is like a new meth dealer moving in next to our heroin dealer. Climate scientist Jim Hansen has called the approval of the pipeline “game over” for the climate.

But besides a discussion of the merits, there is the question of why is this the rake in the yard Obama needs to avoid? It starts with the voters, specifically those who will be affected by this pipeline.

Today at 1:30 pm Texas time, East Texas landowners who made up the group Stop Tarsands Oil Pipelines, or STOP, held a press conference detailing their opposition to this proposed monstrosity. Among their chief complaints were that the State Department had failed to account for the current devastating Texas drought in their environmental impact study.   From STOP:

Strike 3: State Dept’s 3rd Pipeline Assessment Ignores Texas Drought

DOS puts Europe/China’s oil supply ahead of water for 12 million Texans and ag lands as wildfires burn

East Texas cattle rancher Don Williams has trimmed his herd in half, lost calves to drought, and now faces wildfires burning just 20 miles from his ranch.  Even before all of this, Williams was concerned about the impact the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would have on water supplies in the Carrizo Wilcox aquifer, which most East Texans rely on.
When he learned that the State Department, in their review of the proposed pipeline, had not even looked at what drought conditions meant for the pipeline’s safety, he was outraged.
“We need that aquifer, and that they could just ‘overlook’ what’s happened here in the last year shows we can’t trust what they’re telling us,” said Williams who also serves on the City Council in New Summerfield, a town of just over 1,000 people. “Tar sands oil isn’t like regular crude – they’ve got to pack it with heavy metals and chemicals just to thin it down enough to pump it. The first pipeline they built spilled at least a dozen times in just one year of operation.”
A report released today by an East Texas group called Stop Tarsands Oil Pipelines corroborates Williams’s story, demonstrating

Drought? What Drought?

that the historic Texas drought, which has been devastating communities and grabbing headlines all summer long, was overlooked by the US State Department in its third and purportedly final environmental impact statement (FEIS) on the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

“Texas is burning, our firefighters have faced 300 consecutive days of wildfire,” said David Daniel, STOP’s Founder and President. “I’ve seen firsthand that a tar sands pipeline spill in Michigan is still contaminating water 14 months later, putting 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River off limits. If we had a similar spill in Texas under conditions like these where could we go for water for our homes, farms, and ranches?”
The report issued by STOP examines the implications for operating the proposed pipeline, which would push the denser and more toxic tar sands oil at higher pressures and temperatures than conventional oil pipelines, during droughts like the one currently scorching Texas. According to STOP, the impacts of a severe drought were ignored by the U.S. State Department in its review of the environmental impacts of the proposal.
STOP also documents that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has placed six TransCanada water withdrawal permit applications on hold due to drought.
“If State Department had bothered to talk to any Texans they would have realized that pumping 830,000 barrels a day of tar sands crude through the middle of Texas would be a grave mistake,” said Don Williams, East Texas Cattle rancher and City Councilman, New Summerfield. “We need all the water we have to keep our farms and ranches in business.”
To make matters worse, says David Daniel, the oil being delivered by this pipeline may not be intended for U.S. consumption. He points to a report by oil industry economist Philip K. Verleger, which concludes that the tar sands oil is much more likely to be exported to global markets for consumption in China and Europe.
“They’re selling this pipeline to the public as energy security, but the truth is that U.S. demand for oil has flat-lined whereas China’s demand keeps growing,” says Daniel. “Dr. Verleger is an oil industry economist who just happens to also be honest about what he sees, which is more than I can say for TransCanada after dealing with them the last couple years.”

You should visit their website at stoptarsands.org to listen to the rest of their stories. Their full study on the drought vs. the pipeline can be found here. 

Beyond that, with lobbyist ties to the White House, this makes approving the decision for the Keystone XL the biggest affirmation that pay-to-play politics and revolving door between industry and government are alive and well in Washington DC. TransCanada, the owner of the proposed pipeline, hired former Clinton campaign staffer Paul Elliot and several other Obama staffers to lobby the State Department and the White House. Is it any wonder why their analysis would overlook something so obvious as the Texas drought when they are being lobbied to get this out the door as quickly as possible?

It’s worth noting this is the third flawed FEIS that the State Department has produced. Three strikes and you’re out? Well, if there was any justice in this world, yes, as it would be obvious this is not due diligence, but pure politics and a Potemkin village of looking at impacts to local residents and their water supplies. It is a boneheaded mistake, and makes it look like the Obama administration is full of a bunch of rookies, making obvious mistakes like forgetting drought.

If Obama wants to avoid having his Presidency resemble The Three Stooges any more, he needs to clean the pie off his face from Solyndra, and don’t even go close to that rake. He can’t afford another similar self-inflicted wound, especially one that is not only so avoidable but also happens to be the right thing to do.

Now where are those three nincompoop chandelier hangers I hired?




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