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Internal State Department documents raise concerns, new questions

Posted Sep. 13, 2011 / Posted by: Rebecca Connors

Internal State Department docs regarding the Keystone XL pipeline raise concerns, new questions about interactions with TransCanada lobbyist Paul Elliott

Update, 10/3/11: We have released new documents that provide definitive evidence of State Department bias.

Update, 9/22/11: The Washington Post has reported on these documents: TransCanada pipeline lobbyist works all the angles with former colleagues

TransCanada emails

Documents provided by the
State Department in response to our FOIA:

Documents from first release.

Media release: Internal State Department emails reveal cozy relationship with TransCanada and provide evidence of bias in Keystone XL pipeline review

More resources:

Read our memo about the documents from the second release

Media release: Keystone XL: New documents reveal complicity and bias at the State Department

Learn more about our FOIA request

We have obtained documents from the State Department in response to our Freedom of Information Act request that provide evidence of agency bias and indicate the State Department was doing favors for TransCanada during the Keystone XL review.

The documents are particularly troubling in light of the fact that Secretary of State Clinton said in 2010, before an environmental review was complete, that she was "inclined" to approve the pipeline. Indications of State Department bias and assistance to pipeline backers were also contained in documents obtained via WikiLeaks, and reported on by the Los Angeles Times in July 2011.

Friends of the Earth, the Center for International Environmental Law and Corporate Ethics International, all represented by Earthjustice, sued the State Department in May after the department failed to respond to our FOIA request filed in December 2010 and rejected multiple administrative appeals in early 2011. The State Department has finally begun releasing communications between department staff and Paul Elliott, TransCanada’s lobbyist who was previously a high-ranking aide on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

The first batch of 34 documents, all originating from the Office of the Secretary, raise serious questions about State Department bias, especially in light of Secretary Clinton’s comment last year that she was “inclined” to approve the project before a legally required environmental review was even close to completion.

The most troubling documents indicate that State Department officials sought to help TransCanada by providing information about State’s internal thinking and by coaching TransCanada on what to say as it responded to a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the oil company’s controversial tar sands pipeline.

It’s also clear that Elliott enjoyed a cozy relationship with State Department employees and sought to exploit his campaign ties to secure high-level meetings. The correspondence confirms that Elliott was lobbying State aggressively as early as June 2009 even though he did not register as a federal lobbyist until after news organizations reported on his unregistered lobbying in December 2010. (Given that Elliott was lobbying for a foreign corporation, this failure to register may have been a serious violation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act.) The documents show that after we filed our FOIA request, State Department employees sought guidance on “whether Paul Elliott's past association with Secretary Clinton is a conflict of interest.”

We expect more documents to be forthcoming from other State Department offices.

Inappropriate favors?

In an email exchange from May 19, 2010, Elliott told Nora Toiv (a former campaign colleague who had become special assistant to Secretary Clinton’s chief of staff) that then-State Department Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs David Goldwyn gave TransCanada’s then-president and CEO Hal Kvisle “insight on what he'd like to see by way of on the record comment during this public comment period of this Keystone KXL draft environmental impact statement.” Elliott wrote: “We are working with our stakeholders, shippers and vendors to deliver on the insight David shared with us and to do so by the June 15 deadline.”

On June 28, 2010, Elliott emailed Toiv requesting that she “not circulate widely what I am going to share with you in this message.” Elliott then revealed that “professionals” working for State’s Goldwyn informed TransCanada’s regulatory lawyer that there was the possibly of delaying the presidential permit for up to two years and requested that TransCanada give State an assessment of the possible “impact” to the company. We should note that Goldwyn subsequently left State, joined a firm that caters to oil interests, and then testified before Congress in support of the Keystone XL pipeline. An LA Times story from July 13, 2011 raised questions about this revolving door link, citing a 2009 cable released by WikiLeaks that describes Goldwyn as having “alleviated” Canadian officials’ concerns about getting their crude into the U.S.

Elliott began using his campaign ties to position TransCanada as a “friend” of the State Department as early as 2009. For instance, documents show TransCanada offered to lobby the Canadian government on behalf of the U.S. government prior to the Copenhagen climate conference. “TransCanada can be an asset for the state department and I hope you might see us as such,” Elliott wrote to Toiv.

Download and view the documents | Learn more about our FOIA request | Media release

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