Most of the attacks against Susan Rice, Obama’s supposed top pick for Secretary of State, have come from Republicans. But now the left — mainly groups opposed to developing Canadian tar sands — may have some reasons to question Rice.
According to a report from OnEarth Magazine, Rice has millions of dollars tied up in top Canadian energy companies — including TransCanada, the company pushing for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
The 1,700 mile Keystone XL pipeline would pipe carbon-intensive tar sands crude from Alberta to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. Because the pipeline crosses international borders, its approval falls under the jurisdiction of the State Department. That means Rice — or any other candidate tapped to head the State Department — would be responsible for approving or rejecting the project.
Here’s what the OnEarth investigation of Rice’s finances found:
Rice’s financial holdings could raise questions about her status as a neutral decision maker. The current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Rice owns stock valued between $300,000 and $600,000 in TransCanada, the company seeking a federal permit to transport tar sands crude 1,700 miles to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, crossing fragile Midwest ecosystems and the largest freshwater aquifer in North America.
Beyond that, according to financial disclosure reports, about a third of Rice’s personal net worth is tied up in oil producers, pipeline operators, and related energy industries north of the 49th parallel — including companies with poor environmental and safety records on both U.S. and Canadian soil. Rice and her husband own at least $1.25 million worth of stock in four of Canada’s eight leading oil producers, as ranked by Forbes magazine. That includes Enbridge, which spilled more than a million gallons of toxic bitumen into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010 — the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.
Rice also has smaller stakes in several other big Canadian energy firms, as well as the country’s transportation companies and coal-fired utilities. Another 20 percent or so of her personal wealth is derived from investments in five Canadian banks. These are some of the institutions that provide loans and financial backing to TransCanada and its competitors for tar sands extraction and major infrastructure projects, such as Keystone XL and Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would stretch 700 miles from Alberta to the Canadian coast.
And also this:
According to her most recent financial disclosure reports, along with her TransCanada investments, Rice and her husband own at least $1.5 million worth of stock in Enbridge (Canada’s No. 3 oil producer, according to Forbes), Cenovus (No. 7), and Encana (No. 8), as well as at least $1.25 million in Imperial (No. 2), $50,000 to $100,000 in Suncor (No. 1), and $15,000 to $50,000 in Canadian Natural (No. 6). (TransCanada is ranked at No. 5 by Forbes.) The couple has at least $1.25 million invested in Transalta, Alberta’s largest coal-fired electricity power producer, and at least $1.5 million in Canadian Pacific Railway, which transports coal, oil, and gas and has been a major financial beneficiary of the North American energy boom.
Calling development of the tar sands “game over” for the climate, environmental groups are making the Keystone XL pipeline their number one fight after the election. Although Rice has had no connection to the decision making process around Keystone XL, her finances raise more concerns from environmental groups working to shut down the pipeline.
Over the past 18 months, a number of questionable relationships between State Department officials and TransCanada have been uncovered.
In July of last year, WikiLeaks released a diplomatic cable from the State Department’s energy envoy written in 2009. In that cable, the official said he had “alleviated” the Canadian government’s concerns about getting tar sands crude into the U.S., and instructed them on how to improve their “oil sands messaging” by “increasing visibility and accessibility of more positive news stories.”
Last October, it was revealed that the State Department contractor performing the environmental assessment of Keystone XL was deeply connected to the pipeline’s developer, TransCanada. Also in October of 2011, emails obtained from the State Department showed that officials in the agency were coaching TransCanada about how to navigate the regulatory process, raising questions about the coziness of the relationship between the two parties.
And in December of 2011, four members of Congress were called out by the Sunlight Foundation for owning shares in TransCanada while also pushing legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
“The State Department has been rife with collusion with the Canadian pipeline builders, and it’s really distressing to have any sense that that might continue to go on,” said Bill McKibben, one of the activists leading the fight against Keystone XL, to OnEarth.
If Rice eventually becomes Secretary of State, she could recuse herself from any decision on Keystone XL. The White House has not yet commented on Rice’s financial stake in these Canadian energy companies.