State Department officials advised TransCanada Corp. on how to build support for its Keystone XL pipeline, even as the department was conducting a review into whether to approve the project, an environmental group alleged based on internal e-mails released Thursday.
The documents, obtained under Access to Information by the environmental group Friends of the Earth, are fuelling charges that the department rigged its review in favour of TransCanada and the controversial pipeline.
Keystone XL, slated to bring oil sands bitumen to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries, is the subject of a fierce debate over the environmental impact of Canada's oil sands.
In one e-mail, a lobbyist for TransCanada offered to use the company's influence with the Canadian government to bring it in line with U.S. thinking on climate change ahead of the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference.
Many of the missives were sent by or to Paul Elliott, TransCanada's Washington-based government relations manager, who had worked in a senior role on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's failed 2008 presidential bid. The e-mails were primarily sent to Nora Toiv, an assistant to Ms. Clinton's chief of staff, Cheryl Mills. Both women worked on the Clinton campaign with Mr. Elliott.
However, Mr. Elliott's frequent attempts to arrange meetings between TransCanada's top executives and Ms. Clinton's most senior aides were consistently rebuffed.
The State Department released its final environmental impact statement last month, which was largely seen as supportive of the pipeline. It must now determine whether the project is in the national interest, and will hold a series of meetings next week along the pipeline route. The Canadian government has lobbied aggressively to win approval for the Keystone XL line.
In a May 2010 e-mail, Mr. Elliott informed Ms. Toiv of a meeting between then-chief executive Hal Kvisle and David Goldwyn, a State Department special envoy on energy.
"David provided us with insight on what he'd like to see by way of on the record comment" Mr. Elliott wrote in the aftermath of the release of a draft environmental impact statement in May 2010. "We are working with our stakeholders, shippers and vendors to deliver on the insight David shared with us."
In light of the e-mails, pipeline opponents are challenging the impartiality of the State Department as it reviews the environmental impact that pipeline would have. Ms. Clinton stoked those concerns last fall when she suggested she was inclined to approve the $7-billion project.
"What these e-mails indicate is that there was a process in which State Department officials were actively coaching and advising TransCanada on not only how respond to the EIS process itself, but how to put pressure on the State Department that would move this process forward as quickly as possible," said Damon Moglen, director of climate and energy programs at Friends of the Earth.
TransCanada and State Department officials say there was nothing improper in the communication between the company and the government, but that it was an effort to ensure the officials had all the information they needed to properly assess the application.
"What we were doing is trying to get some direction from the Department of State on our project," TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said. "And we were trying to ensure we were getting across the importance of this project."
A State Department spokesman did not return a phone call, but told the Washington Post that TransCanada did not meet with officials directly responsible for the environmental review, but rather Mr. Goldwyn, who has since left the U.S. government.
Mr. Goldwyn said that he spoke with both companies, environmental groups and other government officials.
"I explained the questions that needed to be addressed to inform U.S. interests, and - for all parties - the need to make their case with facts and not rhetoric, on the record," he said in an email last night.
In another e-mail, the lobbyist attempts to curry favor with Ms. Noiv by offering to use the company's influence in Ottawa to the Americans' advantage prior to Copenhagen. He said TransCanada executives "spend a great deal of time with Ottawa government officials."
"If there is a message and or topics that the State department would welcome is to encourage with Canadian governments officials, I am happy to pass on that direction to the senior executive leadership team of TransCanada," he wrote on Dec. 6, 2009. "TransCanada can be an asset for the state department and I hope you might see us as such."