Climate & Energy Blog

Groups Question Role of Oil Lobbyist in State Department's Review of Tar Sands Oil Pipeline

Posted Jan. 28, 2011 / Posted by: Kim Huynh

Friends of the Earth is fighting to secure the Obama administration's veto on a massive proposed pipeline called the Keystone XL, which would carry extremely polluting tar sands oil from Canada through six U.S. states to refineries in Texas.

The State Department is in charge of reviewing the project, and we are working to hold the agency accountable for breaching its responsibility to conduct a thorough and rigorous environmental review of the project -- to pay attention to the concerns of people, not just Big Oil and its lobbyists.

  History of our documents request under the Freedom of Information Act  

Sept. and Oct. 2011: State Department releases documents indicating improper activity

As a result of our FOIA request and subsequent lawsuit, Friends of the Earth and our allies have received two batches of documents from the State Department (more are still expected). These documents and other evidence demonstrate that bias, lobbyist influence and conflicts of interest have corrupted the State Department's pipeline review. More information about the documents can be found at http://www.foe.org/new-foia-docs-reveal-smoking-gun-regarding-state-department-bias.

May 2011: State Department sued for not disclosing oil lobbyist correspondence

On May 18, 2011, Friends of the Earth, the Center for International Environmental Law and Corporate Ethics International sued the State Department for failing to disclose the correspondence between the department and Secretary Clinton and the TransCanada lobbyist, Paul Elliott.

The State Department provoked the lawsuit by delaying the processing of the FOIA request and failing to indicate whether or when it will release the information. In filing the suit, Friends of the Earth’s president, Erich Pica, asked, “Why is the State Department refusing to release these communications?.” Pica added that the refusal “calls into question the agency’s decision to rush the review of the Keystone XL pipeline, despite its massive environmental risks and bipartisan opposition to it.” Earthjustice is representing Friends of the Earth and our allies in the lawsuit.

News release | Legal complaint filed against the State Department [pdf]

Feb 2011: State Department accepts FOIA request

In a letter dated February 1st, 2011, the State Department notified Friends of the Earth that, following our appeal, it was accepting our FOIA request.

We are pleased by this move by the State Department, but are waiting to see if the agency will in fact release these documents.

News release | State Department notice accepting our request [pdf]

Jan. 2011 Watchdog groups appeal State Department denial

On January 31, 2011, Friends of the Earth, the Center for International Environmental Law and Corporate Ethics International filed an appeal with the U.S. State Department over its refusal to release the correspondence between the agency and Elliott.

The groups asserted that the Department of State was violating the Freedom of Information Act and threatened to take the agency to court if the documents were not released.

News release | Appeal of State Department decision to deny Freedom of Information Act request [pdf]

Jan. 2011: State Department refuses to release information

On January 5, 2011, the State Department notified the three groups that it had denied our Freedom of Information Act request. Our own and independent legal experts contest that the grounds for the denial are not legitimate.

News release | State Department notice denying our request [pdf]

Dec. 2010: Watchdog groups file Freedom of Information Act request for communications with lobbyist

In December 2010, Friends of the Earth revealed that TransCanada's lead lobbyist for the pipeline, Paul Elliott, is a former high-ranking Hillary Clinton presidential campaign aide.

In order to ensure that Secretary of State Clinton's relationship with Elliott was not unfairly impacting the agency's review process, Friends of the Earth joined with the Center for International Environmental Law and Corporate Ethics International to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the State Department seeking correspondence between the oil lobbyist and the agency.

News release | Freedom of Information Act request [pdf]

Oct. 2010: Secretary Clinton, State Department under fire for questionable review process

The revelation of Secretary Clinton’s relationship to the TransCanada lobbyist was not the first alarm bell casting doubt on her neutrality. In October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked that she was “inclined” to approve the pipeline and probably would not change her mind, even though the State Department was in the midst of evaluating public comments on the proposed project and had yet to complete its legally mandated environmental review. Secretary Clinton’s inappropriate and prematurely biased comments provoked strong rebukes from senators and environmental organizations, with seven groups calling upon her to recuse herself from the pipeline decision.

The State Department’s shoddy draft Environmental Impact Statement also fueled concerns that the agency is not capable of fulfilling its obligations to conduct a thorough and transparent review of the pipeline’s environmental and public health dangers. The EPA gave the State Department’s draft Environmental Impact Statement on the project its lowest rating and recommended that the agency produce a supplemental analysis to address its oversights, including the complete omission of global warming impacts.

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