In lobbying for a presidential permit to construct a massive oil pipeline stretching from Canada to the Gulf Coast, TransCanada’s Paul Elliott has tried nearly every angle.
Elliott — who served as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s national deputy campaign manager in 2008 — sought to broker multiple meetings between senior State Department officials and TransCanada executives. He offered to enlist TransCanada officials’ aid in helping State officials forge an international climate agreement. And he deluged administration officials with letters testifying to the virtues of the Keystone XL expansion project, which would ship crude oil from Canada’s oil sands region to American refiners.
The State Department, which completed its environmental assessment of the project last month, has indicated that it will decide later this year whether to allow the company to construct the 1,700-mile pipeline. across the U.S.-Canada border.
More than two dozen State Department e-mails obtained by the advocacy group Friends of the Earth under a Freedom of Information Act request provide an unusual glimpse into the lobbying for the Keystone permit, which has become a battleground in the national debate over how to address climate change.
They show how Elliott tried to exploit relationships built in political campaigns, with mixed results. The e-mails are almost all between Elliott and a special assistant to Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff. All three knew one another from working on Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Damon Moglen, who directs Friends of the Earth’s climate and energy project, said the e-mails also show a State Department official giving inappropriate “coaching” to TransCanada’s chief executive about how to respond to arguments against the pipeline.
State officials countered that the messages show that TransCanada lobbyists and executives were diverted to officials not directly involved in the pipeline decision. “We don’t want to give anyone an unfair advantage by giving them access to a decision maker,” said Daniel Clune, principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.
Environmentalists have urged the administration to block the permit on the grounds that tapping crude from Canada’s oil sands, or tar sands, releases far more greenhouse gases than other forms of oil extraction and could lead to spills in sensitive areas along the pipeline’s route. The project’s backers say it will provide foreign oil from a trusted ally while generating American jobs.
Trying to ease concerns
The e-mails show that Elliott worked assiduously to try to ease administration concerns about the pipeline’s environmental impact.
Much of the correspondence focuses on TransCanada’s dealings with David L. Goldwyn, who was U.S. special envoy on energy before leaving in January to become an energy consultant. Goldwyn did not play a role in the department’s environmental assessment of the project, though if he had stayed on, he would have weighed in on a still-pending review of whether the project is in the U.S. national interest.
In one e-mail dated June 28, 2010, Elliott wrote that he learned from a colleague that his company had “been directed by professionals who work for David Goldwyn to try to provide an assessment of the impact to my organization if the State Department were to withhold approving a presidential permit for a period of up to two (2) years.”
When Mills’s assistant, Nora Toiv, asked Goldwyn about the matter less than an hour later — noting that she and Mills were colleagues with Elliott on Clinton’s presidential campaign — he replied: “The issue is whether they would still produce the oil if we did not permit the pipeline. If so the emissions would be produced anyway. If not then denying the permit forestalls those emissions.”Referring to the environmental impact statement, or EIS, that the State Department was preparing at the time, Goldwyn continued, “That is what they need to address on the record, so it cane [sic] responded to in the EIS and national interest decision.”
In another e-mail more than a month earlier, on May 19, Elliott wrote that TransCanada’s president and chief executive at the time, Hal Kvisle, had a “very productive” meeting with Goldwyn and other State officials.
“David provide [sic] us with insight on what he’d like to see by way of on the record comment during this public comment period of this Keystone KXL draft environmental impact statement,” the lobbyist wrote. “We are working with our stakeholders, shippers and vendors to deliver on the insight David shared with us and to do so by the June 15 deadline.”
In its final environmental impact statementreleased last month, the department concluded TransCanada would exploit oil sands crude, whether or not the pipeline goes forward.