Schmoozing for tar sands

Has TransCanada been greasing the wheels at the State Department for easy approval of its proposed $7 billion, 1,700-mile pipeline to ship tar-sands crude from Canada down to Texas refineries?

Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks had already left environmental activists and pipeline opponents with the nagging suspicion that behind-the-scenes schmoozing had turned TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline into done deal. But recently released emails between the oil company and State Department officials have pipeline opponents warning of a far-too-cozy and possibly unethical relationship between a top TransCanada lobbyist and the State Department, which must approve the new pipeline.

The emails, released in a FOIA lawsuit filed by the environmental group Friends of the Earth, shows dozens of exchanges between staff with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and TransCanada lobbyist Paul Elliott, who in 2008 helped run Clinton's presidential campaign. Among other things, the group claims the emails show Elliott working hard to exploit relationships he built on the Clinton campaign trail in order to help TransCanada through the State Department approval process.

“The most troubling documents indicate that State Department officials sought to help TransCanada by providing information about State's internal thinking and by coaching TransCanada on what to say as it responded to a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the oil company's controversial tar sands pipeline,” Friends of the Earth said in a statement. “It's also clear that Elliott enjoyed a cozy relationship with State Department employees and sought to exploit his campaign ties to secure high-level meetings.”

As we've previously noted, the pipeline is now at a critical stage in the approval process, heading into public hearings over the next month to determine whether the project is in the national interest, including one in Port Arthur on Monday and another in Austin on Wednesday (go here for a full list of meeting dates, times, and locations).