Environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth (FoE) is suing the State Department in attempt to disclose communications between officials and lobbyists regarding the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. The complaint filed on Tuesday calls for the expedited release of “critical records” from the State Department regarding the involvement of “well-connected lobbyists” in the Keystone approval process.

FoE filed a request for expedited records in April under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Because the approval of the Keystone pipeline could come at any time, FoE asked for expedited processing on their records request, as FOIA requests can potentially take years to process.

FoE argued that “the value of the records will be lost if not received quickly because the environmental review process is moving forward.”

The complaint points out conflicts of interest in the relationships between Keystone lobbyists and U.S. government officials, including TransCanada’s lead D.C. lobbyist who was “a top official in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.” FoE notes that a number of Keystone lobbyists previously worked for Secretary of State John Kerry or Secretary Clinton.

“In light of these relationships, the requested records would allow FoE to inform the public about the nature of the State Department’s decision-making, and the role any of these lobbyists may be playing in that process,” the document states.

The State Department has the final say on the approval of the Keystone pipeline. In 2011, a lawsuit was filed against then-Secretary of State Clinton’s State Department over a lack of transparency regarding TransCanada lobbyist Paul Elliott, who served as an aide to Clinton. The suit alleged that the Canadian oil lobbyist neglected to disclose his status as one of Clinton’s former aides before he began lobbying the State Department on behalf of TransCanada’s Keystone project.

The Huffington Post reports that Elliott “barraged members of the [Obama] administration with letters praising the oil pipeline project and even sought to mediate meetings between State Department officials and TransCanada executives.”

In addition to Elliott, other former Clinton associates were used by the tar sands industry to lobby for the pipeline. In 2011, DeSmogBlog compiled a list of other lobbyists “with ties to Clinton and Obama who have lobbied on behalf of tar sands interests for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Friends of the Earth and many others have been concerned that the environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline failed to accurately assess the environment and climate impacts of the pipeline because of the pervasive conflicts of interest between the State Department and lobbyists.

FoE also alleges that Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the contractor hired to write Keystone’s environmental review, lied to the State Department about its conflict of interest. On its conflict of interest disclosure, ERM stated that it had “no existing contract or working relationship with TransCanada.” But Friends of the Earth and other environmental advocacy groups have found evidence to the contrary.

According to FoE and others, publicly-available documents show that “ERM and its subsidiary, Oasis Environmental, Inc., worked on the Alaska Pipeline Project, a natural gas pipeline being developed by TransCanada and ExxonMobil.”

“Ever since TransCanada first applied for a permit to build the Keystone pipeline in 2008, the State Department’s handling of the review has been plagued by conflicts of interest, insider influence, and a heavy pro-pipeline bias,” FoE’s website states. “Rather than being an impartial judge of whether the Keystone pipeline is in the national interest, the State Department has acted like Big Oil’s best friend in Washington.”

Send a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry demanding that he halt the Keystone XL review process until he gets to the bottom of this blatant conflict of interest.

Alisha is a writer and researcher for Ring of Fire. 

Friends of the Earth - Keystone