Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was already under fire from environmental groups and some senators after she indicated in late October that a controversial pipeline proposal from Canada to Texas is likely to be approved, despite the fact that environmental review of the project is ongoing. Now, several of those groups are questioning Clinton's ties to the top lobbyist for the pipeline company.
Paul Elliott was Clinton's national deputy director during her campaign for the Democratic nomination in 2008. Now he's the top lobbyist for TransCanada, the company that wants to build the 1,661-mile pipeline that would carry oil from Alberta's tar sands all the way to refineries in Texas. Friends of the Earth, the Center for International Environmental Law, and Corporate Ethics International this week submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for all communications between the agency and Elliot—in the interest of determining whether the State Department "is fulfilling its obligations to conduct a thorough and transparent review of the environmental and public health dangers" of the proposed pipeline.
"The State Department has already put its ability to effectively and fairly judge the serious environmental dangers of this pipeline in question," says Alex Moore, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth. "The Obama administration has a duty to thoroughly assess this pipeline’s costs to public health and our environment. We think the White House should reassign review of this pipeline to ensure that the best interests of the public, not Big Oil, take priority."
Last month, several groups (including FOE) argued that Clinton should remove herself from the deliberations because her October comments indicated she was "biased" in favor of approving it—and that was before they highlighted her link to Elliott.
The State Department issued a statement Tuesday evening (following up on a question at an earlier press conference), arguing that it does not believe the association constitutes a conflict of interest: "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."
Since the pipeline would cross an international boundary, the ultimate decision lies in the hands of Clinton's agency. But other agencies have weighed in, including the Environmental Protection Agency, which last summer gave State's assessment of the impacts of the Keystone XL a failing grade. The State Department is now considering whether to approve the pipeline, or do a more thorough environmental review. The department is expected to issue some sort of decision in early 2011.