Los Angeles Times, October 5, 2011
By Kim Murphy
The lobbyist for a Canadian company trying to build a 1,700-mile oil pipeline across the U.S. got quiet support, including encouraging emails and an invitation to an official Fourth of July celebration, from State Department employees while the agency was deciding whether to approve a permit for the pipeline, some top U.S. environmental groups alleged Tuesday.
The TransCanada Corp. lobbyist, Paul Elliott, is a former top campaign aide for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and appeared to use his connections in the department to promote the company's bid to build the Keystone XL pipeline, the groups said in a complaint to the White House.
The department just finished a round of contentious public hearings along the route of the proposed pipeline and is expected to make a decision on the permit by the end of the year.
The environmental groups want the White House to remove the State Department from the decision-making process and, ultimately, reject the pipeline application.
A series of emails released this week as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Friends of the Earth reveal that Elliott was in regular communication with an employee at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa who not only extended social invitations but congratulated him when U.S. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) endorsed the pipeline.
The pipeline, which would carry oil extracted from the tar sands of Alberta in Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast, would also take oil extracted from fields in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.
The State Department has said there was no unusual relationship between Elliott, who was a deputy campaign director for Clinton during her 2008 presidential campaign, and employees reviewing TransCanada's permit application.
The department met with interest groups associated with the application, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday. The department will produce documentation "to show broad engagement with the government of Canada, with industry, with NGOs, with the environmental community, with public interest advocates on all sides of this issue," she said.
TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said it was "absurd" to think Elliott's work could influence a process in which at least 10 federal agencies are involved. "Mr. Elliott was and is simply doing his job -- no laws have been broken. His role is very similar to the job the over 60 registered D.C. lobbyists for 10 environmental groups perform," Cunha said in an email to The Times.
Emails released last month suggested that other State Department employees coached TransCanada in how to get an environmental impact statement approved for the project.
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