The contractor that evaluated greenhouse gas emissions for the State Department's Keystone XL report is the latest company to come under fire for its ties to TransCanada, the prospective builder of the controversial pipeline.
A conflict-of-interest statement from the consulting firm ICF International, submitted to the State Department in 2012, reveals that the company had done other work for TransCanada.
ICF International analyzed greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands oil, the kind that would flow through the pipeline, for the State Department's supplemental draft environmental impact statement, released in March 2013. Its website states that the firm was hired to compare life-cycle emissions associated with oil derived from Canada's tar sands to those associated with oil from conventional crude.
The final environmental impact statement (FEIS), released in January 2014, also includes ICF International on its list of preparers, with ICF staffers working on the greenhouse gas and market analysis portions of the report.
The FEIS concludes that the projected 830,000 barrels of oil that would flow through the pipeline every day would add between 147 million and 168 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere annually. But it also says that the pipeline would be "unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States." In other words, the report concludes, those greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands oil would probably be produced with or without Keystone.
The State Department recently posted ICF's conflict-of-interest forms on its website. Before it was approved to work on the supplemental draft EIS and the final EIS, the company had to make these disclosures.
Those earlier services included work as a subcontractor on the first environmental impact statement for Keystone XL released in August 2011, which was produced by the consulting firm Cardno ENTRIX. "This project represents by far the largest body of ICF work paid for by TransCanada," ICF said in its letter. But it said the work did not constitute a conflict of interest because "the work was actually overseen and directed by the [State] Department."
That kind of arrangement is, in fact, normal: A company seeking the State Department's approval for a project with potential environmental impacts will fund contractors' work on the EIS -- instead of shifting the cost to the American taxpayer -- while the department oversees the actual evaluation.
But that was not the ICF's only tie to TransCanada. Its 2012 letter said that its Canadian affiliate had been retained by TransCanada Pipelines Limited since 2008 -- and was still doing work at the time of the disclosure -- "to provide advisory services related to air emissions issues associated with operations in Canada and the U.S." Those services included "climate policy analysis and regulatory support." ICF said that it was paid "less than $300,000" for that work between 2010 and August 2012, which accounted for "less than 0.1%" of its total revenues over that period.
The company said that it believed the "nature and scale of this work do not represent an Organizational Conflict of Interest," but that it would take "additional mitigation measures to ensure that no such conflict arises," a description of which the company said appeared in its conflict-of-interest plans-and-procedures document. The State Department published the plans-and-procedures document, too, but it is heavily redacted and the mitigation steps are not visible.