State Department Sued for Keystone XL Pipeline Lobbyists’ Communications

WASHINGTON, DC, February 24, 2012 (ENS) – Environmental group Friends of the Earth Thursday sued the U.S. State Department to obtain communications between the department and lobbyists promoting TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The Canadian oil company seeking to build and operate a 1,700-mile-long pipeline that would carry heavy bitumen oil from the tar sands of northern Alberta to refineries in Oklahoma and on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Because the pipeline would cross an international border, a Presidential Permit is required before it can be built. On January 18, President Barack Obama denied Transcanada’s application for construction of the pipeline on the grounds that it is not in the national interest.

TransCanada has indicated its intention to reapply for the permit and is already staging pipes for the line on a field in North Dakota. Meanwhile, the state of Nebraska is working towards designating a new route for the pipeline that would keep it from crossing over the Ogllala aquifer, which supplies drinking and irrigation water to much of the Great Plains.

Syncrude’s tar sands development at Fort McMurray, Alberta (Photo by Mark Breslow)

“Despite the administration’s recent rejection of the Keystone XL permit, TransCanada is forging full-speed ahead on a new permit application, and pro-pipeline lobbyists are keeping the pressure on the State Department to approve this controversial and misguided pipeline,” said Damon Moglen, climate and energy project director at Friends of the Earth.

“The communications we seek are key to ensuring that the State Department isn’t letting lobbyists’ personal connections to Secretary Clinton or President Obama bias its decision making,” said Moglen.

Saying that tar sands mining operations “destroy forests and wetlands, with vast drilling infrastructure, open pit mines, and toxic wastewater ponds up to three miles wide, permanently damaging the environment,” Friends of the Earth is seeking information that the group says reveals an improperly “cozy” relationship between the State Department and the oil company.

Friends of the Earth, represented by the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice, filed a Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, request in October 2011, asking the State Department to release communications between the department and employees of TransCanada.

Friends of the Earth alleges that the State Department violated the Act through failure to comply with FOIA’s 20-day time limit to process a request.

“The billions of oil dollars backing this pipeline should not interfere with government transparency,” said Earthjustice attorney Abby Rubinson. “The public has a right to know how our government is making decisions that have potentially grave consequences for our environment.”

The environmental group also is seeking communications between the department and employees of three pro-pipeline lobbying firms – McKenna Long & Aldridge, Bryan Cave LLP, and DLA Piper.

Two of the lobbyists named on this FOIA request, Gordon Giffin with McKenna, Long & Aldridge; and James Blanchard with DLA Piper; were fundraising bundlers for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s failed 2008 presidential bid.

DLA Piper was the largest single corporate source of employee and political action committee contributions to Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

The campaign connections also extend to President Barack Obama, the environmental group alleges, observing that Jeff Berman, a lobbyist listed on Bryan Cave’s Keystone XL lobbying account, was director of delegate selection in Obama’s 2008 primary campaign.

Friends of the Earth has had success exposing what the group considers to be an inappropriate relationship between State Department officials and Paul Elliott, TransCanada’s lead Washington, DC lobbyist, who was formerly one of Clinton’s presidential campaign managers.

A previous lawsuit the group filed against the State Department for failure to respond to a December 2010 FOIA request, led to the release of correspondence revealing Elliot’s activities.

Revelations about other lobbyists with close ties to Clinton and their potential influence on the review process for the Keystone XL permit led the environmental groups to file this FOIA request for those additional lobbyists’ communications.

The State Department has ignored that request.

“E-mails released in response to our first Keystone XL FOIA request revealed an inappropriately cozy and accommodating relationship between TransCanada and State Department officials,” said Moglen. “From conflicts of interest, to insider advice, to outright cheerleading from within the department, those FOIA documents revealed a corrupted and broken process.”

“With TransCanada continuing to push for a permit for this controversial project, the public deserves to know the full details of oil lobbyist relationships fueling this project,” Moglen said.

“The State Department must not hide documents from the public that could shed further light on serious problems in the initial review of the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Moglen, “problems that contributed to the biased and incomplete environmental review of the pipeline the first time around.”

Conflict of interest flaws in the State Department’s three-year-long environmental review of Keystone XL were revealed in a report by the department’s Office of Inspector General issued February 9.

The OIG review was conducted in response to a November 2011 request from Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent, and Congressman Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat. “The findings confirm once again why the project should not be rubber stamped for approval, despite efforts by Republicans in Congress to do just that,” said Sanders.

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