State Department Refuses to Release Information on Tar Sands Oil Pipeline

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The U.S. State Department notified a coalition of environmental groups last week that it has denied their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for correspondence between the agency and a former presidential campaign staffer of Hillary Clinton’s, who, in his new role as oil industry lobbyist, is seeking Secretary of State Clinton’s approval for a tar sands oil pipeline.

The coalition, including Friends of the Earth, the Center for International Environmental Law, and Corporate Ethics International submitted a FOIA request in December targeted at Paul Elliott, now a lead lobbyist for TransCanada, the company aiming to build the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline that would bring 900,000 barrels a day of dirty tar sands over 2,000 miles through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, and a further 1,661 miles to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

The State Department denied the FOIA request on the grounds that the groups had not “reasonably described the records [they sought] in a way that someone familiar with Department records and programs could locate them” and cited the groups’ request for a waiver on the fees associated with the processing of the FOIA as reason to deny their request.

Marcie Keever, legal director for Friends of the Earth argues that the State Department did not have legitimate legal grounds to deny the FOIA request.

As Paul Elliot served as national deputy director and chief of staff for delegate selection for Clinton’s Presidential campaign committee, and is now lobbying on a file in Clinton’s purview, the groups are concerned the relationship between Clinton and Elliot may impact the approval process for the pipeline project.  They’re also concerned that Elliott had been lobbying without disclosing his activities for over a year.  

According to Keever:

“that the agency is ignoring its own written guidance regarding FOIA requests and the release of public information.  This is the type of delay tactic we would have expected from the Bush administration, not the Obama administration, which has touted its efforts to usher in a new era of transparency in government, including elevated standards in dealing with lobbyists.”

Friends of the Earth is continuing its efforts to obtain the records from the State Department despite the initial denial.

Will the State Department fulfill its obligations of conducting an exhaustive and transparent review of the environmental and public health dangers of the proposed pipeline?  Read on to learn about about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Image Credit: ForestEthics

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