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Groups Urge Clinton to Recuse Herself from Tar Sands Oil Pipeline Decision

Posted Dec. 7, 2010 / Posted by: Kelly Trout

For Immediate Release

November 4, 2010

Contact:

Kelly Trout, 202-222-0722, ktrout@foe.org
Alex Moore, 202-222-0733, amoore@foe.org

Groups Urge Clinton to Recuse Herself from Tar Sands Oil Pipeline Decision

 Clinton’s biased comments may put State Department in legal jeopardy

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The heads of seven environmental, consumer, and legal organizations sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today, calling on her to recuse herself from the permitting decision for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline.

The recusal demand amplifies a crescendo of criticism that Secretary of Clinton has confronted over remarks she made indicating that she is “inclined” to approve the controversial pipeline despite the fact that her agency is in the midst of conducting a legally mandated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project. 

“As the State Department’s review is ongoing, it is inappropriate for you to make statements about what final decision you are ‘inclined’ to make,” the groups’ leaders wrote. “The decision about whether or not to permit this pipeline is a key environmental decision for this administration, yet your recent comments make it clear that you are biased.”

Clinton’s statement, made in San Francisco on October 15, has been strongly criticized as prejudicial to the process and outcome of her agency’s review, especially given that the State Department’s preliminary draft EIS was met by more than 100,000 critical public comments and was handed a failing grade by the Environmental Protection Agency, which has demanded a more thorough review of potential environmental and public health dangers.

Last week, 11 influential senators rebuked Secretary Clinton, telling her to not “pre-judge” the environmental analysis for the project. Both Nebraska senators, Mike Johanns (R) and Ben Nelson (D), have criticized the proposed pipeline, which would cross their state and its most important source of drinking water. Senator Johanns said Secretary Clinton’s comments could land the project in court: He told The Hill, “If the net result is the ultimate decisionmaker … had already prejudged this then you have a problem where this would be determined to be arbitrary and capricious.” The Lincoln Journal Star published an editorial questioning whether her comments mean that “the approval process is merely a sham.”

“Secretary Clinton’s bias on this unnecessary and controversial pipeline undermines the credibility of the State Department’s review,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth and a signatory on today’s letter. “Rather than prejudging the outcome of this decision, the Secretary should have stated her commitment to a robust review of the significant environmental issues on the table.”

The leaders of the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for International Environmental Law, Greenpeace USA, Indigenous Environmental Network, Plains Justice and Public Citizen joined Friends of the Earth's president in sending the letter to Secretary Clinton today.

Marcie Keever, legal director for Friends of the Earth, concluded, “Secretary Clinton is exposing the State Department to litigation over the pipeline decision. Her comments demonstrate disregard for her agency’s legal responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act and suggest that she cannot serve as an objective arbiter of this process.”

The State Department is legally required to assess the impacts that the pipeline could have on people and the environment in an Environmental Impact Statement before deciding on whether or not to permit the project.

The Keystone XL pipeline would be constructed by Canadian oil and gas giant TransCanada. If approved by the Obama administration, it would bring high-carbon, dirty tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas to Gulf Coast refineries near Houston at a rate of 900,000 barrels per day.

The pipeline has been opposed by environmental, agricultural, and tribal organizations, and more than 50 members of Congress and 11 senators have voiced strong concerns.

A pdf version of the letter sent to Secretary of Clinton today is available here: http://www.foe.org/sites/default/files/ClintonKeystoneXLRecusalLetter.pdf

More information about the Keystone XL pipeline is available here: http://www.foe.org/keystone-xl-pipeline

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