The Revolving Door, Keystone XL Edition

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/prettydaisies/2368840080/sizes/m/in/photostream/">prettydaisies</a>/Flickr

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


Environmental groups have been asking questions about the relationship between the top lobbyist for TransCanada and the State Department, which is currently evaluating the company’s proposal to build a 1,660-mile pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Texas. Paul Elliott is now the director of government relations for the energy company TransCanada, but previously served as the national deputy director for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign.

Friends of the Earth filed a Freedom of Information Act request several months ago to access communication between Elliot and State Department officials, which State denied. So FOE sued, and State eventually provided some of the documents, which the group released on Thursday. The Washington Post broke the story on what the email records contained:

Elliott — who served as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s national deputy campaign manager in 2008 — sought to broker multiple meetings between senior State Department officials and TransCanada executives. He offered to enlist TransCanada officials’ aid in helping State officials forge an international climate agreement. And he deluged administration officials with letters testifying to the virtues of the Keystone XL expansion project, which would ship crude oil from Canada’s oil sands region to American refiners.

See the whole piece for more insight on the back-and-forth between the lobbyist and federal officials. One thing that also struck me is the role of David L. Goldwyn, who was the US special envoy on energy until last January. In the emails, he seems to be coaching TransCanada about how to deal with various requests and questions. Now, Goldwyn says he didn’t have a role in drafting the environmental impact statement at State. But he would have had a role in decision about whether to approve the pipeline. Emphasis there is on the “would have,” though, because he left the department earlier this year for a private energy consulting firm. In that role, he has testified to Congress about the “importance of Canadian oil for US energy and national security” and advocated for the pipeline’s approval.

The second notable element is Elliot offering State his help in talking to the Canadian government about climate change, ahead of the 2009 UN meeting in Copenhagen. “TransCanada can be an asset for the state department and I hope you might see us as such,” he wrote in one email to a Clinton staffer.

Now, is this concrete evidence of ethical impropriety at the State Department when it comes to the Keystone XL consideration? I think the sad truth is that it probably isn’t. The revolving door between agencies and the oil industry is par for the course it seems.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.