KEYSTONE XL:

GAO set to probe State's environmental review -- lawmaker

Updated at 2:10 p.m. EST.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) requested an independent audit today of the State Department's environmental review system for projects such as Keystone XL, his latest step to protest the Obama administration's handling of the controversial oil sands crude pipeline.

A Grijalva spokesman said the Government Accountability Office already has agreed to conduct the inquiry that he will formalize today alongside Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica and other anti-KXL advocates. Grijalva has led Democratic critics of State's environmental impact statement (EIS) on the pipeline, amplifying climate activists' conflict-of-interest charges.

A GAO spokesman said that all audit requests must go through a weeks-long review process and that no formal decision has been reached on Grijalva's proposed investigation.

At issue for Grijalva and many green groups fighting KXL is the selection of Environmental Resources Management, the private contractor hired to craft the final EIS for the pipeline that State released last month.

ERM is a member of the American Petroleum Institute and used a senior employee on the KXL review who had previously worked for project sponsor TransCanada Corp., among other industry ties that led environmentalists to deem invalid the firm's claim to no financial conflicts that it made before winning the pipeline job.

ERM "also claimed to have no relationship with any business affected by Keystone's construction, even though publicly available documents show that the firm has business with more than a dozen companies with operating stakes in Alberta tar sands," Grijalva wrote to GAO, referring to the type of carbon-intensive fuel that KXL would ship to U.S. refineries.

The inspector general's office at State is concluding its own probe of ERM's screening, the second such investigation in two years. Grijalva and 24 other House Democrats recently called for a delay in the final EIS until the results of that inquiry become public, a request State shrugged off last month (E&ENews PM, Dec. 12, 2013).

Click here to read Grijalva's formal request to GAO.