The State Department, which completed its environmental assessment of the project last month, has indicated that it will decide later this year whether to allow the company to construct the 1,700-mile pipeline. across the U.S.-Canada border.
More than two dozen State Department e-mails obtained by the advocacy group Friends of the Earth under a Freedom of Information Act request provide an unusual glimpse into the lobbying for the Keystone permit, which has become a battleground in the national debate over how to address climate change.
They show how Elliott tried to exploit relationships built in political campaigns, with mixed results. The e-mails are almost all between Elliott and a special assistant to Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff. All three knew one another from working on Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Damon Moglen, who directs Friends of the Earth’s climate and energy project, said the e-mails also show a State Department official giving inappropriate “coaching” to TransCanada’s chief executive about how to respond to arguments against the pipeline.
State officials countered that the messages show that TransCanada lobbyists and executives were diverted to officials not directly involved in the pipeline decision. “We don’t want to give anyone an unfair advantage by giving them access to a decision maker,” said Daniel Clune, principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.
Environmentalists have urged the administration to block the permit on the grounds that tapping crude from Canada’s oil sands, or tar sands, releases far more greenhouse gases than other forms of oil extraction and could lead to spills in sensitive areas along the pipeline’s route. The project’s backers say it will provide foreign oil from a trusted ally while generating American jobs.
Trying to ease concerns
The e-mails show that Elliott worked assiduously to try to ease administration concerns about the pipeline’s environmental impact.
Much of the correspondence focuses on TransCanada’s dealings with David L. Goldwyn, who was U.S. special envoy on energy before leaving in January to become an energy consultant. Goldwyn did not play a role in the department’s environmental assessment of the project, though if he had stayed on, he would have weighed in on a still-pending review of whether the project is in the U.S. national interest.