Internal emails released Monday show a sometimes friendly relationship between a State Department official and a top lobbyist for TransCanada Corp., the company seeking federal approval to build a major Canada-U.S. oil pipeline.
The environmental group Friends of the Earth, which obtained the emails under a Freedom of Information Act request, said the documents are “deeply disturbing” and indicate “pro-pipeline bias and complicity at the State Department,” the federal agency that is heading up a review of TransCanada’s application to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
The 1,700-mile pipeline — which would carry Canadian oil sands from Alberta to refineries in Texas — has ignited a firestorm in Washington, pitting environmental and public lands groups against the oil industry.
The emails released Monday include exchanges between Paul Elliott, a top lobbyist at TransCanada and former aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, and Marja Verloop, a State Department official who works on energy and environmental issues at the U.S. embassy in Ottawa.
In one email, Verloop cheers Elliott after he says he has secured Sen. Max Baucus’s (D-Mont.) support for the pipeline.
“Go Paul! Baucus support holds clout,” Verloop wrote in a Sept. 10, 2010, email.
In another email, Verloop invites Elliott to visit Ottawa.
“When are you coming up to visit? It's a snowy winter wonderland here this morning,” Verloop said Dec. 14, 2010.
Other emails appear to show Verloop inviting Elliott and another State Department official to a Fourth of July party.
Groups like Friends of the Earth, which released another series of emails last week, say the State Department’s review of the pipeline has been incomplete, alleging that it downplays the project’s potential impacts on the environment.
The State Department said in August that the project poses little environmental risk if managed properly and the administration expects to make a final decision on the pipeline by the end of the year. It is currently conducting a series of public meetings on the pipeline.
Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups have long criticized Elliott. Last month, the environmental group called on the Justice Department to investigate Elliott, alleging that he had lobbied the Obama administration for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline for more than a year without registering as a lobbyist.
State Department spokeswoman Wendy Nassmacher said Monday that the administration is "committed to a fair, transparent and thorough process."
"Throughout the process we have been in communication with industry as well as environmental groups, both in the United State and in Canada,” she said. “These conversations are similar to the public meetings we held last week. We listen to all opinions, but there is much more that goes into the national interest determination decision."
James Millar, a TransCanada spokesman, dismissed the emails Monday as an attack on the Keystone XL project by Friends of the Earth.
“Mr. Elliott was and is simply doing his job — no laws have been broken,” Millar said. “His role is very similar to the job the over 60 registered D.C. lobbyists for 10 environmental groups perform.
“The environmentalists continue to use sound bites over substance and facts, attacking anyone who disagrees with their point of view.”