Opponents of a pipeline that would nearly double U.S. imports of Canadian oil-sands crude sued the State Department today in a bid to force speedy disclosure of any contacts it made with a lobbyist for the pipeline's sponsor.
The suit stems from a December Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by three advocacy groups seeking to view potential communications between the department -- which is set to decide on a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline by year's end -- and Paul Elliott, a lobbyist for its sponsor, TransCanada Corp.
Elliott's past work as an adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton prompted the push by the three groups-turned-plaintiffs, all of which have criticized Clinton for appearing partial in previous remarks on the merits of Keystone XL.
After initially rejecting the FOIA request from the three groups, the State Department reversed course in February and indicated that it would search for the data sought by the three groups -- Friends of the Earth, Corporate Ethics International and the Center for International Environmental Law (Greenwire, Feb. 22). But the State Department later denied the trio's push for expedited processing, sending the advocates to court -- and giving them an opening to publicly press the Obama administration on the pipeline.
"Why is the State Department refusing to release these communications?" Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica said in a statement on the lawsuit. "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."
Indeed, the focus on Elliott's link to Clinton is one thread of a larger Keystone XL drama that pits environmental groups and liberal Democrats against the oil industry, the Canadian government and a bipartisan passel of lawmakers who see the pipeline as an economically valuable way to secure crude from a stable ally.
Yet the crude that would flow through Keystone XL and across six U.S. states carries a larger greenhouse gas footprint than conventional fuel, making further ties to the Canadian oil sands anathema to lawmakers and groups that hope to wean the nation off fossil fuels.
A supplemental environmental review of Keystone XL released last month brings the $7 billion pipeline one step closer to a final ruling by the department but did little to mollify the concerns of the project's opponents (Greenwire, April 18).
Calgary, Alberta-based TransCanada noted earlier this year that Elliott's activity for the company is hardly unique, telling E&E Daily his is "a role performed in Washington by many individuals for dozens of companies and organizations."
Click here to read the green groups' suit filed today.