Emails show friendly relationship between U.S. and TransCanada

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October 3rd, 2011

Omaha, NE – Another round of emails was released today that show a close relationship between U.S. State Department officials and TransCanada – the company that wants to build a controversial oil pipeline across Nebraska.

The emails were released by the advocacy group Friends of the Earth, which says it obtained them through a Freedom of Information Act request. The emails show a sympathetic ear at the State Department to TransCanada, and its efforts to gain support from Senators and Congressmen for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and requires State Department approval to be built.

The controversial Keystone XL pipeline requires approval from the State Department because it would cross international borders, on its way from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo by Nebraska Watchdog)

The documents highlight one relationship in particular: a lobbyist for TransCanada Paul Elliott, who served on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidential nomination in 2008, appears to have a very friendly relationship with one State Department staffer, Marja Verloop, who serves as Counselor for Energy and Environment at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.

In one email dated September 10, 2010, Elliott forwards a press release to Verloop announcing that Montana Senator Max Baucus has signed on to support the pipeline. Verloop responds “Go Paul! Baucus support holds clout.”

In other emails, the two go back and forth discussing kids, vacations and visits. In one exchange from December 2010, Verloop forwards a story to Elliott headlined “Enviro groups slam Clinton’s ties to Keystone XL lobbyist” and adds “When are you coming up to visit?” Elliott writes in response: “Friends tell me I should be flattered from the attention of a story like this but I shake the sick feeling in my stomach… I have to try to find a way back to Ottawa soon so that we might catch up…”

And Verloop’s response: “Sorry for the stomach pains but at the end of the day, it’s precisely because you have connections that you’re sought after and hired…”

An earlier cache of emails released by Friends of the Earth in September show a similarly friendly relationship, and appeared to show State Department officials coaching TransCanada representatives on how to increase their chances for approval.

In another email string among the State Department, officials ask how to handle queries from Friends of the Earth and other media outlets about whether Elliott’s past relationships represent a conflict of interest. The response comes in the form of question-and-answer and says: “No, the Department is considering this permit application on its merits. The Department is not, and will not, be influenced by prior relationships that current government officials have had.”

A spokeswoman for The State Department, Wendy Nassmacher, responded to the emails on Sunday to The New York Times, disputing they showed anything untoward. “We are committed to a fair, transparent and thorough process,” she said. “Throughout the process we have been in communication with industry as well as environmental groups, both in the United States and in Canada.”

A representative of TransCanada told the Omaha World Herald that Elliott “is simply doing his job” and “no laws have been broken.” James Millar added several federal agencies are involved in the permit process, and it’s “absurd” to suggest one person could influence it.

Friends of the Earth also announced Monday they will be taking legal action in an attempt to block the pipeline. The group will be holding a press conference Wednesday in partnership with other advocacy groups and landowners near the proposed pipeline route.

To view the State Department documents, click here. These were provided by Friends of the Earth.

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