Climate & Energy Blog

Watchdog Groups Appeal State Department’s Refusal to Disclose Communications with Oil Lobbyist

Posted Jan. 31, 2011 / Posted by: Kelly Trout

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

Watchdog Groups Appeal State Department’s Refusal to Disclose Communications with Oil Lobbyist

FOIA targets correspondence between agency and former high-ranking Clinton aide turned lobbyist

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Three watchdog groups today filed an appeal with the U.S. State Department over its refusal to release correspondence between the agency and a former high-ranking presidential campaign staffer of Hillary Clinton’s, Paul Elliott. In his role as oil lobbyist, Elliott is seeking Secretary of State Clinton’s approval for the controversial Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline.

The groups allege that the failure of the State Department to comply with its responsibility under the Freedom of Information Act further calls into question Secretary Clinton’s impartiality on the oil pipeline, which is proposed by Elliott’s employer TransCanada and, if approved by the Obama administration, would cross six U.S. states on its way from Canada to refineries in Texas.

“By refusing to disclose any documents, we contend that the State Department is violating the Freedom of Information Act,” said Marcie Keever, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “We are hopeful that with this appeal the State Department will release communications between the oil lobbyist and Secretary Clinton and her staffers. If the agency doesn’t, we will take it to court if necessary.”

Earlier this month, the State Department notified Friends of the Earth, Corporate Ethics International, and the Center for International Environmental Law that it had denied their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The State Department’s rejection of the groups’ FOIA request was criticized by independent FOIA experts and, unless overturned, threatens to force the issue into the courts.

“The State Department is making a mockery of President Obama’s pledges to end the influence of lobbyists and improve transparency in Washington,” said Damon Moglen, climate and energy project director for Friends of the Earth.

“In this year’s State of the Union address, the president said that, ‘Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done: put that information online.’ It would seem that Secretary Clinton and the State Department did not get the memo,” Moglen added.

Related recent developments have exposed the extent of TransCanada’s manipulation of landowners along the pipeline’s proposed route. In South Dakota, TransCanada has filed more than a dozen lawsuits to condemn land along the pipeline’s proposed route, even though the company has not received the federal permit required for construction. In Oklahoma, a farm family is suing TransCanada to defend its property, claiming that the company’s attempt to use eminent domain is unlawful.

The outrage from landowners has fueled already mounting local resistance to the pipeline -- resistance based on concern about public health and environmental dangers, including the threat of spills contaminating the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides irrigation and drinking water to eight states.
In coming weeks, Secretary Clinton is expected to decide whether to fast-track a final recommendation on the project or order a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which would facilitate a more rigorous review and provide more opportunity for public input.

The revelation of Secretary Clinton’s relationship to the TransCanada lobbyist was not the first alarm bell casting doubt on her neutrality. Groups urged Secretary Clinton to recuse herself from the Keystone XL pipeline decision following statements in October that she was “inclined” to approve the project and would “probably not” change her mind, even though the department has not yet completed the legally mandated review.

The appeal filed with the State Department today, and all other documents related to the Freedom of Information Act request, are available at: http://www.foe.org/news/archives/2011-01-groups-question-role-oil-lobbyist-state-departments-review-tar-sands-oil-pipeline

More information about the Keystone XL pipeline is available at: http://www.foe.org/projects/climate-and-energy/tar-sands/keystone-xl-pipeline

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Friends of the Earth and our network of grassroots groups in 76 countries fight to create a more healthy, just world. Our current campaigns focus on clean energy and solutions to climate change, keeping toxic and risky technologies out of the food we eat and products we use, and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who live and work near them.

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