The Revolving Door, Keystone XL Edition

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


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.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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