OIL AND GAS:

In reversal, State will release Keystone lobbyist's communications on pipeline

After initially having their freedom-of-information request rejected, environmentalists are on their way to receiving data on the State Department's communications between its chief and a former top aide who now lobbies for the company behind a controversial $7 billion U.S.-Canada oil pipeline.

The State Department told Friends of the Earth (FoE) and two other green groups earlier this month that their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) bid for copies of the department's contacts with Paul Elliott -- a former campaign aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton who has spent two years lobbying for TransCanada Corp., sponsor of the Keystone XL pipeline -- would not be granted. The advocacy groups cried foul and appealed last month after the denial of their first Elliott-related FOIA request, filed three days after TransCanada officially registered him as a lobbyist on Capitol Hill (E&E Daily, Jan. 12).

FoE fuels campaigner Alex Moore said in a statement that he hoped the State Department's assent to the FOIA appeal, also filed by Corporate Ethics International and the Center for International Environmental Law, would be "a sign of more transparency to come." But the green groups are "still waiting to see if the State Department indeed releases these documents," he added.

Environmentalists began pursuing Elliott as part of their broader campaign to prod the Obama administration to reject a border-crossing permit for Keystone XL, which would run more than 1,700 miles through six U.S. states and nearly double the nation's total imports of crude from the Canadian oil sands. The pipeline is a top priority for TransCanada as well as the oil industry and many congressional Republicans, but green groups and liberal-leaning Democrats are leading the charge against further U.S. consumption of Canadian crude that they decry as a safety and ecological risk.

Elliott's ties to Clinton came into play for critics of the pipeline after the former first lady signaled in October that she was "inclined to" sign off on Keystone XL, telling a San Francisco audience that "we're either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada" (E&ENews PM, Oct. 21, 2010).

But the battle over the TransCanada project has raged for months, with the Al Gore-backed Alliance for Climate Protection adding its voice to the anti-Keystone XL camp last week even as the U.S. oil industry and Canadian regulators pushed back hard against claims by four other green groups that the diluted bitumen crude carried by oil-sands pipelines posed a higher risk of corrosion-related spills (Greenwire, Feb. 16).

Nonetheless, a final decision from the State Department on the pipeline remains months away, and the administration has yet to reveal whether it plans to grant requests from U.S. EPA and a handful of lawmakers from both parties to conduct an extra environmental review of the project.

Click here to read the State Department's letter granting the green groups' FOIA appeal.

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