Environmentalists Fire Latest Salvo in Battle Against Keystone XL

By Lee-Anne Goodman
Lee-Anne Goodman
Lee-Anne Goodman
July 17, 2013 Updated: July 17, 2013

WASHINGTON—Another year, another allegation of conflict of interest regarding TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline—this time in a lawsuit by Friends of the Earth that alleges close ties between the Obama administration and lobbyists for the project.

The environmental group is accusing the State Department of stonewalling its attempts to get more information about the connections between TransCanada lobbyists, the province of Alberta and high-ranking officials in the Obama administration that include the president himself, Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor, Hillary Clinton.

It’s the latest salvo in a protracted—and at times repetitive—battle against the pipeline by the U.S. environmental movement. But it comes as a new poll suggests most Americans back the project.

The United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, released Wednesday, found that more than 67 percent of those surveyed support building the pipeline, including 56 percent of Democrats. Fewer than a quarter of respondents, 24 percent, said they oppose Keystone XL.

A final decision on the pipeline isn’t expected until this fall at the earliest.

U.S. environmentalists, meantime, are keeping up the pressure on the Obama administration. As it’s done twice previously, Friends of the Earth submitted a freedom-of-information request for the communications between Obama administration officials and pipeline lobbyists.

It accuses State of refusing to provide “expedited processing” of documents sought in late April under the Freedom of Information Act.

In 2011, the State Department agreed to a similar request, releasing emails that suggested a chummy relationship between a key lobbyist for TransCanada—Paul Elliott, a one-time campaign worker for then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton—and a State Department official at the U.S. embassy in Ottawa.

This time, Friends of the Earth says the State Department is balking at providing the information in a timely fashion. That’s despite promising two years ago to tighten its lobbying rules to assure objectivity in the approval process, the environmental group says.

“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 in U.S District Court in D.C.