Keystone fight heads to White House

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October 4th, 2011

Omaha, NE – The fight over the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline is heading directly to the White House. Today, national environmental groups called on President Barack Obama to step in and halt the project.

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“The question I think that’s before us is can he actually hear us anymore, or is the sound of corporate checks being written distracting him before the election?” Harsh words directed at President Obama from Rebecca Tarbotton, the Executive Director of the Rainforest Action Network. Tarbotton joined several national environmental groups in a conference call with reporters to urge the President to reject TransCanada’s plans to build the pipeline.

Environmental groups had harsh words for President Obama Tuesday, calling on him to restore his campaign pledges to end the revolving door of lobbyists to government. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

Keystone would transport oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and has sparked protests in Nebraska – where it’s proposed to cross over the Ogallala Aquifer. The State Department is overseeing TransCanada’s application for its permit because the pipeline would cross international borders. And, this week, emails released by Friends of the Earth show a friendly relationship between the State Department and TransCanada officials: one official in particular – lobbyist Paul Elliott, who used to work for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Tarbotton said the emails point to an “unprecedented corporate capture” of the federal government.
“Don’t believe me? Then tell me how it is that someone can go from being on Hillary Clinton’s staff to working for a foreign corporation directly lobbying to her department?” Tarbotton asked. “Elliott himself says he’s just a lone wolf, he’s operating alone. But this man is part of a $790,000 lobbying effort since September alone.”

“These professional activists are just grasping at straws,” countered Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada in an interview with KVNO News.

A campaign staffer for Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign for the presidency is now working for TransCanada as a lobbyist to the State Department. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

“The reality is we’re doing the same kind of thing that the environmental organizations are doing as well,” he said. “They’re advancing their position on the pipeline. We’re advancing our position. There’s nothing suspicious about this. Mr. Elliott’s emails are a matter of public record.”

Howard said Elliott was hired in before Secretary Clinton was appointed to her current position.
“What he’s doing in terms of interacting with government officials or trying to set up meetings is absolutely no different than the 60 registered lobbyists for these different environmental groups, who are trying to advance their very narrow agenda, and drive some fairly powerful fundraising campaigns.” He added, “It’s going to be facts that decide this project.”

The representatives of the environmental groups were asked about their own lobbying ties during their conference call, and whether the State Department’s relationships with TransCanada officials are that unusual. Michael Brune, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, said “It is true. We do lobby the federal government, the Sierra Club, and many environmental organizations do lobby both state and federal governments.” But, he added, “What is at issue here is a consistent, a persistent pattern of undue assistance, inappropriate assistance that’s being offered between the State Department and TransCanada itself. We’re not getting coached by members of the State Department, we’re not receiving any outside advice, we’re not having our concerns alleviated as State Department employees have with Canadian officials.”

Brune issued a challenge to the State Department and TransCanada, saying the Sierra Club is happy to release all of its correspondence between the two agencies, provided they do the same.

A spokeswoman for the State Department addressed the controversy during Tuesday’s daily briefing. Victoria Nuland said the Department does “not believe that there is any issue” in inappropriately affecting Clinton’s decision. Nuland also noted the State Department maintains friendly relationships with many of the groups involved with the pipeline, and that the emails released only represent a portion of the story. Nuland was asked why not release all emails with all the different groups involved to show the full picture. But she said the State Department is not in the practice of releasing government documents without a Freedom of Information Act request.

Nuland added Secretary Clinton has made “no decision” as to whether to approve the pipeline, and seemed to have some flexibility as to when that might be decided – suggesting the original December deadline might be pushed back.

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