The environmental group Friends of the Earth released e-mails this week revealing a cozy and collaborative relationship between TransCanada Corporation lobbyist Paul Elliott and an employee at the U.S. State Department, the agency currently weighing approval of TransCanada's permit application for the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
A New York Times report notes that the emails show the State Department official providing “subtle coaching and cheerleading” for TransCanada:
A State Department official provided Fourth of July party invitations, subtle coaching and cheerleading, and inside information about Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton's meetings to a Washington lobbyist for a Canadian company seeking permission from the department to build a pipeline that would carry crude from the oil sands of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
The emails also suggest the State Department understood that after securing approval of the pipeline, TransCanada would reverse the concessions it made in respose to safety concerns. From the Times report:
TransCanada lobbyists exchanged e-mails with State Department officials in July about their intention to drop their request to operate the Keystone XL pipeline at higher pressures than normally allowed in the United States to win political support, but then suggested they would reapply for the exception once the project had been cleared.
So far, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS and NBC have ignored the story.
Environmental groups say the e-mails fit into a pattern of behavior indicating that the State Department is not objectively or rigorously evaluating the project. Almost a year before the Environmental Impact Statement was completed, Secretary Clinton said that her office was “inclined” to sign off on the pipeline. The State Department's Environmental Impact Statement was prepared with the help of Cardno ENTRIX, a consulting firm that works for TransCanada. The draft EIS, which said the pipeline would have “limited adverse environmental impacts,” was deemed “inadequate” by EPA reviewers. Cardno ENTRIX is also running the public hearings on the pipeline and maintaining the State Department's website about the Keystone XL project.
In an earlier batch of e-mails released by Friends of the Earth, TransCanada's Elliott said then-energy envoy for the State Department David Goldwyn had provided “insight on what he'd like to see by way of on the record comment during this public comment period of this Keystone KXL draft environmental impact statement.” Elliot added: “We are working with our stakeholders, shippers and vendors to deliver on the insight David shared with us and to do so by the June 15 deadline.” In another e-mail, Elliott, who previously worked on Secretary Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, again wrote that State Department officials had advised TransCanada on how to respond to environmental arguments against the pipeline.
An October 2009 cable obtained by Wikileaks previously showed that Goldwyn had instructed Canadian officials on how to improve “messaging” about tar sands by “increasing visibility and accessibility of more positive news stories.” Goldwyn left the State Department in 2011 and testified this year in support of Keystone XL.
Friends of the Earth concludes that “the State Department no longer has credibility on the Keystone XL question” and calls for authority over the pipeline to be taken away from the agency.
UPDATE (10/11/11): On October 7, both Fox News and CNN covered the emails. MSNBC discussed the story on October 8.