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More Keystone XL documents -- and redactions -- from the State Department

Posted Jan. 13, 2012 / Posted by: Nick Berning

The State Department continues to stonewall on disclosing aspects of its internal conversations about the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, more than a year after Friends of the Earth and several allies filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents related to the pipeline review.

Today, as the agency's Office of Inspector General reportedly nears the end of an investigation into potential wrongdoing, we are making public the latest tranche of State Department documents obtained by Friends of the Earth, Corporate Ethics International and the Center for International Environmental Law. After the State Department initially refused to release the documents, our groups, represented by Earthjustice, filed suit to force their release.

Browse the documents being released today (pdf).

Read an overview of how bias, lobbyist influence and conflicts of interest corrupted the department’s initial review of the pipeline’s likely impacts, which contains links to earlier tranches of documents.

Unfortunately, the new batch of documents shows that the State Department is still hiding something. As was true with the earlier document releases, several of the new documents were heavily redacted, and it appears that yet another email attachment is missing.

Here are specific areas of concern:

  • The newest tranche of documents contains 11 separate redactions from a flurry of email communications dated December 13, 2010 -- the date we first filed our Freedom of Information Act request. These redactions make it clear that the State Department continues to refuse to be fully forthcoming about its communications regarding TransCanada lobbyist Paul Elliott, who was previously a high-ranking aide on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
  • A July 23, 2010 email from John Schnitker to Matthew McManus and Michael Stewart says “here is my draft summary for the record” of a State Department meeting with TransCanada employees including lobbyist Paul Elliott. However, the summary, which was presumably attached to this email, was not released in response to our Freedom of Information Act request. This continues a pattern in which the State Department has repeatedly refused to release email attachments that appear to be pertinent to our FOIA request.
  • An email chain in which details of a February 7, 2011 “Regulatory Cooperation Briefing” hosted by the State Department are being planned is heavily redacted. It is likely that TransCanada executives attended the briefing, which one State Department employee referred to as “clearly the hot DC ticket in Ottawa.” Why did the State Department redact these documents, in effect hiding whether TransCanada employees were on the invite list?

These omissions add to the troubling preponderance of evidence indicating that something went awry in State Department’s review of the pipeline’s likely impacts -- and that the department continues to try to hide information about what happened.

The opaque nature of the State Department's review process is but one of a multitude of reasons to reject the Keystone XL. The pipeline itself is a carbon bomb that would devastate our climate by piping almost a million barrels of tar sands oil per day that is much dirtier than conventional crude. It would threaten communities through America's heartland with costly and toxic spills and would harm people at both ends, leading to more poisoning of drinking water near tar sands extraction sites in Canada and increasing air pollution that causes lung disease near refineries in Texas.

In November, President Obama responded to public concern about the pipeline and the State Department’s actions by announcing his administration would conduct a new review. And now, subsequent action by Congress (a rushed review process requirement embedded in December’s payroll tax bill) may lead the president to kill the pipeline altogether within a matter of days.

If you haven’t yet weighed in with President Obama, now is the time. Send him a message and urge him to stop the Keystone XL pipeline now.

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