Stop Hiring Oil Lobbyists to Assess Environmental Impacts

secretary of state John Kerry

Target: John Kerry, United States Secretary of State

Goal: Ensure that there are no conflicts of interest in hiring contractors to conduct federal environmental reviews

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would expand a major oil pipeline system linking the United States and Canada, has become symbolic of the struggle to address climate change. The U.S. State Department commissioned an Environmental Impact Study to help inform the President’s decision whether to approve or deny construction. Many have expressed outrage after learning that the company hired to conduct the study has deep ties to the petroleum industry.

Environmentalists, indigenous activists, and others have condemned the creation of Keystone XL for the damage it would do to natural and cultural resources. A truly objective impact study would describe the effects of additional drilling and oil production on greenhouse gas levels, the pollution of waterways, and the destruction of native lands. But instead, London-based Environmental Resources Management (ERM) issued a report which “glosses over the risk of catastrophic oil spills and the health impacts on communities,” according to and Friends of the Earth.

An investigation by the office of the Inspector General found that the State Department did nothing wrong in hiring ERM to conduct the review–despite the fact that ERM failed to disclose their status as dues-paying members of the American Petroleum Institute, which has lobbied aggressively to get the Keystone XL pipeline approved. ERM lied on disclosure forms, and the State Department failed to verify the forms’ accuracy, despite its obligation to do so.

This hypocrisy and corruption is unacceptable, and both environmental and human health are too important to be compromised by this situation. Tell the State Department to uphold its own rules, and to ensure that all contractors hired to conduct environmental reviews are free from conflicts of interest.


Dear Secretary Kerry,

Despite assurances from the office of the Inspector General, I am deeply disappointed by the State Department’s failure to ensure the objectivity of its Keystone XL Environmental Impact Study. Hiring a company with a vested interest in the pipeline’s approval is beyond irresponsible. That ERM lied about its conflicts of interest until after being awarded the contract is no excuse.

The State Department is obligated to ensure that the companies with which it contracts are not tainted by industry bias. The decision to approve, or deny, Keystone XL’s construction permits has indeed become a mater of contention, and rightly so. Canadians and Americans alike know that expanding drilling operations would advance climate change, and degrade the environment. It would result in more oil spills, mysterious ailments, and expensive clean-up efforts. None should be surprised that ERM downplayed these risks. But the company should never have been given the voice to do so as authors of this official report.

Clearly, not all companies can be trusted to honestly disclose their biases. It is the responsibility of your office to verify their objectivity. I call on you, and the State Department, to ensure that similar conflicts of interest are avoided in the future.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: United States Congress via Wikimedia

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