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Saturday, December 3, 2016

State Department Cozies Up To Oil Lobbyists In Tar Sands Pipeline Deal

The construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline is looking increasingly likely, despite fervent protests from environmental activists. As new correspondence shows, the government’s decision to support the massive pipeline project might be based more in close ties to oil lobbyists than in an independent analysis of risks and benefits.

The pipeline would transport difficult-to-extract oil from the Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico. The State Department, which would give final approval to the TransCanada company project, has released reports in favor of the pipeline, claiming there are no significant environmental risks. Activists, meanwhile, have opposed the pipeline’s construction, arguing that the oil from the tar sands has a higher carbon output than conventional oil and that the pipeline bears a considerable risk of spills and accidents.

Now, newly released emails between the State Department and TransCanada suggest that the government might have too close a relationship with the oil company, increasing skepticism about the State Department’s objectivity in its decisions and support for the pipeline project. The activist group Friends of the Earth received the emails as part of a Freedom of Information Act request, and the correspondence reveals a blatant pro-pipeline bias the activists have long feared as the approval inches forward.

One senior State Department employee, Marja Verloop, writes “Go Paul!” to pipeline lobbyist Paul Elliott after hearing that TransCanada has Sen. Max Baucus’ support. Their emails indicate a close friendship, involving invitations to July 4th parties and a shared understanding that the pipeline project should go through. Other exchanges reflect TransCanada’s intention to obtain special permission to pump oil through the pipeline at higher-than-usual pressures — but the company will request this permit after the pipeline is already constructed as a means of avoiding protests. This revelation, although disturbing to people who have raised concerns about the risks for accidents with the pipeline, seems to not bother Verloop, who continues her regular banter with the TransCanada lobbyist. Elliott’s cozy relationship to the State Department is already a matter of concern, since he was previously a top Clinton campaign aide. Other email exchanges raise further questions about whether the government is carefully considering the potential negative impact of the project or whether they are unquestioningly bowing to oil industry interests.

“You see officials who see it as their business not to be an oversight agency but as a facilitator of TransCanada’s plans,” said Damon Moglen, the director of climate and energy project for Friends of the Earth.

Clearly, the State Department isn’t making its decisions solely on the basis of what is best for the environment and the American people. While it isn’t surprising that the government has overly friendly ties to oil companies, the released emails show a particularly egregious level of bias — one that could have a significant impact on the construction of a controversial pipeline.

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