Austin Tar Sands Hearing a Farce

Hundreds of people turned out and many waited for hours yesterday in Austin, TX to testify against the dangerous Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which is proposed by a foreign company and threatens the health, climate and water of those living along the proposed pipeline route.

Photo by Karen Hadden of man arrested for expressing concerns about the flawed hearing process.

This pipeline would be carrying the dirtiest of oil from Canada through the heartland of American to be refined here in Texas.  The State Department sent contract facilitators who abruptly halted testimony, turning away several dozen speakers.  Federal Security and UTPD then forced people out of the room.  One man expressed concerns about the flawed process and was arrested for “criminal trespass.”

According to Karen Hadden, the Executive Director of the Sustainable and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, “This was not a hearing, this was a farce.”  Ms. Hadden arrived and had been waiting for a couple of hours to give comments when they cut the hearing off.  Later, when she was attempting to find out what her options were for providing comments to the State Department given she was unable to do so at the hearing, she was told she must leave the premises or she would be arrested.

According to Brad Johnson of ThinkProgress

In a stunning conflict of interest, public hearings on federal approval for a proposed tar sands pipeline are being run by a contractor for the pipeline company itself. The U.S. Department of State’s public hearings along the proposed route of the TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands pipeline this week are under the purview of Cardno Entrix, a “professional environmental consulting company” that specializes in “permitting and compliance.”

Cardno is not only running the State Department hearings, but also manages the department’s Keystone XL website and drafted the department’s environmental impact statement. Comments from the public about the pipeline go not to the government, but to a cardno.com email address.

Cardno Entrix was contracted by TransCanada Keystone XL LP (“Keystone”) to do the work for the Department of State, to assist DOS in preparing the EIS and to conduct the Section 106 consultation process.

Throughout the history of the DOS review of the Keystone pipeline, the work has been conducted not by civil servants but by representatives of the pipeline company. During the Bush administration, the Department of State appointed TransCanada “and its subcontractors to act as its designated non-federal representatives” to assess the potential impact of the Keystone pipeline on endangered species.

Cardno Entrix contractors are running the public hearings from Port Arthur, Texas, to Glendive, Montana. It is not clear from media reports whether the State Department “representatives” at the hearing were in fact Entrix employees. ThinkProgress Green is awaiting information from the State Department.

“All of this adds up to the old saying, the fox is guarding the hen house,” says Jane Kleeb, the Nebraska activist leading the fight to protect her state from the risks of the Keystone XL project.

We will also followup and let you know if there were, in fact, any actual employees of the State Department present at this hearing.