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PHMSA’s Not Doing Its Job

This blog is part 2 in a series of blogs about our efforts to seek answers from PHMSA about the shoddy construction of KXL-south. Check out part 1 here.

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PHMSA’s Not Doing Its Job (and is Abetting and Reinforcing TransCanada’s Lies)

We’ve been trying to get answers from PHMSA about TransCanada’s shoddy and dangerous construction practices discussed in part 1. PHMSA’s definitely making it very difficult. Our friends, landowners and concerned citizens, have tried calling to inquire about these sketchy construction practices, have tried to get a meeting to discuss these safety matters with PHMSA officials, but they’re being flatly refused. One landowner who called PHMSA was essentially told that PHMSA, a government agency, doesn’t directly work with or answer to the public, so does not feel obligated to meet with members of the public, not even concerned landowners who live on the Keystone XL route. Another landowner whose land KXL passes through, when inquiring about emergency response plans, was told that they’d have to submit a FOIA request to PHMSA in order to have any chance at gaining access to them!

Stop for a moment to think about how outrageous that is. Here we have a bullying, self-interested, for-profit pipeline company that wants to pass a 1,700 mile pipeline through America’s heartland, putting lives, livelihoods, water supplies and sensitive ecosystems, and even endangered species like the whooping crane, at risk, bullying landowners into accepting their ridiculous “common carrier status” claims and seizing land through eminent domain. All for their personal gain, at the expense of indigenous communities where the tar sands are being extracted, at the expense of refinery communities such as those in Manchester and Port Arthur that’ll feel the brunt of the consequences of refining through air, water and land pollution leading to increased risk of cancer among other things, at the expense of a dying world at large in climate crisis, and at the expense of landowners along the pipeline route who fear that the shoddily-constructed KXL pipe could spill at any moment. TransCanada should be hand-delivering spill-response plans to the doors of every landowner along the pipeline route, and sitting down with them to explain what risks are involved! TransCanada should be organizing town hall meetings to discuss the risks that the towns are taking on in accepting this pipeline so that they’re prepared should an emergency occur!

But no, instead landowners have to submit a Freedom Of Information Act request to gain access to documents they should have an inalienable right to. And not without a price… the Freedom Of Information Act guarantees PHMSA’s right to charge requesters to produce documents, unless they can prove to PHMSA that they deserve a fee waiver. PHMSA’s FOIA fees page indicates that PHMSA charges $50 per hour simply to research and collect the documents they should already have collected and publicly accessible.

Really, PHMSA? Is your data in such disarray that it takes expert work valued at $50 an hour to research and compile them? What the ???? are you doing?

Conversations with our friends who’ve been trying to get answers from PHMSA show that on the phone, PHMSA officials spend good amounts of time actually defending TransCanada, often using TransCanada’s own deceitful talking points to try to reassure them. For example, one official told a landowner that TransCanada abides by “57 special conditions” over and above what they’re regularly called to do in a pipeline project. THIS IS A BALD-FACED LIE, but one that TransCanada and PHMSA officials have used over and over again to claim that KXL is safe. An analysis by researchers at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) shows that most of the 57 conditions are already required or implied by existing law. The conditions are just smoke and mirrors… there’s nothing “special” about them. It’s actually even highly questionable as to whether or not these conditions are being met, given all the faulty pipeline work we’ve seen coming out these last few months. Anyway, the 57 conditions are themselves so obviously ridiculous that one can tell simply by reading them, so we encourage you to check them out!

PHMSA, Get Your Act Together

Take a look at PHMSA’s Mission & Goals page. They declare there that they aim, by 2016, to

  • Reduce the number of pipeline incidents involving death or major injury to between 26-37 per year.
  • Reduce the number of hazardous materials incidents involving death or major injury to between 21-32 per year.
  • Reduce the number of hazardous liquid pipeline spills with environmental consequences to between 65-81 per year.
  • Reduce the number of hazardous materials incidents with environmental damage to between 44-64 per year.
This was grabbed from PHMSA's "Mission" page (red circles are ours).

This was grabbed from PHMSA’s “Mission” page (red circles are ours).

Are these the goals you’re aiming for? What happened to “aiming for” 0 deaths, 0 injuries, 0 pipeline incidents, 0 environmental consequences? Is that too high of a standard for you? Are you okay with some people dying every year so hazardous, toxic materials can flow through the continent? If so then we question whether or not you’re capable of protecting us as you’re tasked to.

We appreciate a recent pinch of frankness from PHMSA in this regard, though. Recently, PHMSA’s Jeffrey Wiese admitted that PHMSA’s regulatory process is “kind of dying”, that PHMSA didn’t have the legal tools to effectively enforce its regulations. In light of this, Wiese decided to create a YouTube channel to encourage the pipeline and hazardous materials industries to voluntarily improve safety.

In order for things to change, you’re going to have to be more honest with the public about just what it is you are and aren’t doing.

If you can’t do your job effectively, we’re glad you said so, but it’d be great if you stopped lying to us on behalf of corporations who couldn’t care less about the public or all the landowners that get in their way when they want to build a pipeline.

And it’d be great if documents that should already be public were made so. Starting with, perhaps, those documents we’ve requested in our FOIA letter (see below or download here).

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/phmsa-not-doing-its-job/