The State Department has won several high-profile victories in the past year (see: Libya), and Hillary Clinton is largely regarded to be among the most popular national political figures at a time when others are facing a sharp drop in approval ratings. But despite this high tide, the State Department is stuck in a brewing controversy over its role in pushing for the authorization of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada — and it may be forced to answer questions about whether department officials are acting in the best interests of the American public.
The proposed TransCanada pipeline, which would stretch 1,700 miles from the Canadian tar sands to the Texas Gulf Coast refineries and cost $7 billion, has drawn criticisms from environmentalists who argue that the project has a significant risk of accidents and that the tar sands oil has a larger carbon output than conventional oil. Despite this opposition, the U.S. government has been generally supportive of the controversial project. The State Department was given responsibility for the pipeline’s approval because it would cross a national border. Whether the State Department is fairly and fully weighing the costs and benefits of the project, however, is a matter of concern to anti-pipeline activists.