Food and Technology Blog

Keystone XL: Friends of the Earth sues State Dept. over failure to release records on pipeline lobbying

Posted Jul. 16, 2013 / Posted by: Adam Russell

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Friends of the Earth today sued the State Department in federal court for failure to turn over records detailing the contacts between lobbyists for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and the Obama administration.

On April 15, Friends of the Earth filed an extensive Freedom of Information Act request demanding the expedited release of all communications since October 2011 between the State Department and numerous lobbyists and lobbying firms for TransCanada and the Province of Alberta. State denied the group's request for a speedy release of the records, and three months later has yet to release any records or say when they will be released. The matter is urgent because State is in the final stages of an environmental review that is key to whether the Department recommends that the president approve or reject a permit for the pipeline.

"The requested information is critical because a number of the lobbyists presently advocating for the project formerly worked for Secretary of State John Kerry, or for former Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton," says the lawsuit, filed today in U.S District Court for the District of Columbia by DC law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal. "In light of these relationships, the requested records would allow FoE to inform the public about the nature of the State Department’s decision-making, and the role any of these lobbyists may be playing in that process."

After similar FOIA requests by Friends of the Earth in 2010 and 2011 uncovered records that showed how cozy relationships between State Department officials and Keystone lobbyists tainted the first environmental review of the pipeline, the State Department promised to tighten its lobbying rules to assure objectivity in the current round. But Friends of the Earth's latest FOIA request said it is clear that the permit process remains compromised by conflicts of interest, secrecy and deceit. It identified more than two dozen Washington lobbyists, lawyers and consultants helping to push for pipeline approval who have close ties to Obama, Kerry, Clinton or other elected officials with a stake in the outcome.

Heading the list is Anita Dunn, a former White House communications director and senior advisor to the president’s re-election campaign and the former communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under then-Senator Kerry. Dunn is now a principal with the lobbying firm SDKnickerbocker, which represents TransCanada. According to The New York Times, Dunn has met with top White House officials more than 100 times since leaving the Administration in 2009.

The new environmental review for Keystone XL is being conducted by a contractor with deep financial ties to TransCanada and oil companies who would benefit from the pipeline – connections the State Department tried to cover up. Last week, Friends of the Earth released evidence that the contractor, Environmental Resources Management, lied on its federal conflict-of-interest disclosure form when it said it had not worked for TransCanada or other companies with an interest in the pipeline.

ERM's draft of the environmental review contends that the pipeline will cause little environmental harm and absurdly suggests that the pipeline will not spur development of the climate-wrecking tar sands in northern Alberta. Scientists and the EPA alike contend that without the pipeline, tar sands development would be constrained and would therefore produce less climate destroying carbon.

“From the beginning the State Department’s handling of the environmental review of the Keystone pipeline has been hopelessly compromised by TransCanada, the Province of Alberta and their army of lobbyists,” said Ross Hammond, senior campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “The Department's refusal to release records of the lobbying effort makes you wonder what they're hiding now."

Friends of the Earth’s investigation has yielded a dossier of Keystone lobbyists and their connections to Obama, Kerry and Clinton. Besides Dunn, the list includes:

  • Paul Elliott, chief lobbyist for TransCanada, a top Clinton operative in her 2008 presidential campaign and a key figure in the 2011 conflict of interest scandal over the earlier environmental review.
  • David Castagnetti of Mehlman, Vogel & Castagnetti, who was director of Congressional relations for Kerry’s 2004 campaign for president; and Brandon Pollak of Bryan Cave LLP, who also worked on Kerry’s campaign.
  • Three former U.S. ambassadors to Canada: David Wilkins of Nelson, Mullins et al, which has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Province of Alberta; Gordon Giffin of Long & Albridge, a top fundraiser in Clinton’s presidential campaign; and Jim Blanchard of DLA Piper, also a top Clinton fundraiser.

“Release of these records will shed more light on lobbyists’ influence on the State Department’s Keystone review, but it is already clear that State can not be trusted to manage the review process objectively,” said Damon Moglen, senior strategic advisor for Friends of the Earth’s climate and energy program. “It is clear that Secretary Kerry inherited a flawed review process in which TransCanada and Alberta continue to call the shots. The current draft analysis is fundamentally flawed and invalidated by ERM’s clear conflict of interest. Secretary Kerry needs to convene both an investigation by his Inspector General into undue influence and conflict of interest, and order a new, independent analysis of the pipeline.”

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Contact:
Ross Hammond, (415) 559-5082 or (510) 900-3143, rhammond@foe.org

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