Friday, May 20, 2011

U.S. State Department sued over Hillary Clinton's correspondence with TransCanada Pipeline lobbyist

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - Environmental and legal watchdog groups sued the State Department on May 19 to get copies of any communications between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a lobbyist for a Canadian oil company seeking approval of a massive proposal oil pipeline.

The lobbyist, Paul Elliott, formerly worked as the national deputy director for Secretary Clinton's presidential campaign. Elliott was then hired by TransCanada Pipelines, Ltd, the company behind the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would run through America's Great Plains to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Elliott registered as a lobbyist only after news organizations reported on his lobbying activities on behalf of TransCanada in December 2010. TransCanada needs a permit from Secretary Clinton to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

The suit follows a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Friends of the Earth, Corporate Ethics International, and the Center for International Environmental Law late last year seeking to uncover any communications between Elliott and the State Department that would reveal whether Elliott's former position as campaign director for Secretary Clinton resulted in bias in the permitting process. The State Department initially denied the request for those records on January 5, 2011. A few weeks later, the Department reversed its decision to deny the request but has delayed processing the request, and has not indicated whether or when it will release the information.

The State Department is heading a multi-agency environmental review of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Canadian crude oil from Alberta's tar sands to the Texas coast.

"Why is the State Department refusing to release these communications? This 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," Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica said in a statement.

Before deciding whether to grant a permit, the State Department must analyze the pipeline's risks and finalize an Environmental Impact Statement. After the Environmental Protection Agency told the State Department its draft environmental impact statement was inadequate, Secretary Clinton nonetheless said, last October, that the State Department was "inclined to approve" the permit.

Secretary Clinton's agency has been criticized by farmers and ranchers in the pipeline's path for rushing the review process and not holding hearings on the department's latest draft analysis. The State Department plans to make a final decision about the Presidential Permit before the end of 2011.

"Clearly, TransCanada hired Mr. Elliott to take advantage of his previous service to Hillary Clinton," said Kenny Bruno with Corporate Ethics International. "We think the public has a right to know in what ways TransCanada and Mr. Elliott have attempted to influence Secretary Clinton's view of this controversial project."

The public interest law firm Earthjustice represents Friends of the Earth, Center for International Environmental Law, and Corporate Ethics International.

"This raises important questions of transparency and fairness," said Sarah Burt, an Earthjustice attorney. "If a decision to approve a transcontinental pipeline is made based on relationships and access to Clinton, while completely overlooking the significant environmental and public health dangers posed by the pipeline, the public needs to be aware of it."

Read the
complaint here.(Source: Earthjustice news release)

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