Twenty-five House Democrats want President Obama to further delay a pivotal ruling on the Keystone XL pipeline until the State Department's internal watchdog completes a probe of State's environmental review of the project.
The inspector general at State is investigating allegations that a contractor that the department is using for the study, consulting firm Environmental Resources Management, has a conflict of interest. The inquiry isn't slated for completion until early 2014 at the earliest. The Democrats, in a new letter to Obama, say State's analysis of the project should not be finalized until the IG probe is done.
"If the allegations that ERM lied to the Department of State about its conflicts of interest turn out to be true, the Department of State must conduct a new [environmental impact statement] that is not tainted by conflicts of interest," states the letter from Reps. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Kathy Castor of Florida, and other Democratic lawmakers.
Environmentalists have alleged that ERM failed to disclose a financial tie to Keystone pipeline developer TransCanada, a claim that TransCanada has rejected, according to Bloomberg.
The open letter is designed to ratchet up pressure on the White House as a decision on a permit for the project draws closer. The outcome of State's final environmental analysis, which is believed to be near completion, will very likely forecast whether the White House approves the pipeline.
Keystone would bring hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil each day from Alberta's oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries. State has a role in approving the permit because the pipeline would cross international boundaries.
A draft analysis by the State Department in March dealt a major blow to environmentalists who claim the pipeline would worsen climate change by hastening carbon-intensive oil sands production in Alberta. The draft study found that either approving or rejecting the project, contrary to environmentalists' claims, would have very little effect on the rate of oil sands production expansion.
Obama has said he will not approve Keystone unless he's confident that the pipeline would not significantly add to climate change.