Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

October 6, 2011

State Dept. tap dances around Keystone XL questions

Tom Goldtooth, IEN director, arrested at White House,
during Tar Sands Action civil disobedience.
Photo Shadia Fayne Wood
US State Dept challenged on its cozy relationship with the dirty oil industry

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

WASHINGTON -- The US State Department attempted to explain its consultation and Freedom of Information Requests concerning the Keystone XL Pipeline, during a press briefing yesterday. While the State Dept. attempted to present a pristine view of its consultations with industry, Native and environmental groups, the media asked pointedly if industry was getting a back-door deal.

The State Department was asked if it granted a "disproportionate" amount of time to industry groups during consultations.

State Dept. Spokesman Victoria Nuland said, "I would simply say that we’ve done our own internal review, including with regard to the contacts that our lead officer at Embassy Ottawa had. And our internal review concludes that her relationship with the environmental organizations was equally close, and that she had very friendly relations with a broad cross-section of Canadian NGOs as well."

Nuland admitted that she made error the previous day when she said all the documents regarding FOIA requests have been released. On Wednesday, Oct. 5, she admitted there are more documents yet to come.

Nuland began the press briefing with claims that the State Dept. has consulted with 10 environmental groups, 11 industry groups and held three consultations with Canadian government officials.

"Let me first say that the Department is working on a daily/weekly basis with eight other agencies of the Federal Government in preparation for the decision that the Secretary needs to make towards the end of the year. These are the Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security, and Environmental Protection. And all of those agencies are responsible for giving views on whether this permit is in the U.S. national interest.

"Second, to say that here in the Department, we’ve held more than 25 meetings with interested groups. Of these, 10 have been with environment groups and NGOs, including Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club, both of whom attended at least five of our meetings. And we’ve also met with Canadian NGOs, including the group Water Matters. We’ve also had 11 meetings with industry and industry groups including TransCanada, Canada Energy Pipeline, and associations in Canada and the United States.

"We’ve had three meetings focused on the interests of native peoples, both Canadians and Americans, groups like the Absentee Shawnee of Oklahoma, and Cree, one of the largest groups of First Nation citizens in Canada. And we’ve also had three meetings with Canadian officials. Our Embassy in Ottawa has had more than 150 meetings on this subject with a similar breakdown of groups: Canadian Government, civil society, interest groups, NGOs, environmentalists, industry, and Native American – Native Canadian peoples."

Meanwhile, the Indigenous Environmental Network will be among the Native organizations opposing the tarsands and Keystone XL pipeline during testimony in Washington on Friday. It is the final open meeting on the proposed pipeline, scheduled for Friday, Oct. 7, at the Ronald Reagan Building between 10:00 and 2:00.

The tarsands are already destroying First Nation land, water and air in Alberta. The proposed pipeline from Canada to Texas is an environmental disaster in the making. It would cross pristine areas of North America, including the massive Ogallala aquifer. The highly corrosive tarsands oil is one of the nation's dirtiest oils and its corrosive elements produce higher than usual amounts of spills.

First Nations and American Indians were recently arrested at the White House and on Parliament Hill during protests to halt the tarsands and pipeline.

Documents already released by way of FOIA requests reveal the cozy relationship between the White House and a tarsands lobbyist.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the "U.S. got quiet support, including boosterish emails and an invitation to an official Fourth of July celebration, from employees at the U.S. State Department while the agency was deciding whether to approve a permit for the pipeline."

"The Trans-Canada Corp. lobbyist, Paul Elliott, is a former top campaign aide for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and appeared to use his connections inside the department to promote Trans-Canada's bid to build the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the groups said in a complaint to the White House."

State Department Briefing:

Complaint to the White House * Center for Biological Diversity * Center for Energy Matters * Center for International Environmental Law * Chesapeake Climate Action Network * CREDO Action * Friends of the Earth * Green for All * Greenpeace USA * Indigenous Environmental Network * Native American Rights Fund * Physicians for Social Responsibility * Rainforest Action Network * Sierra Club * STOP – Stop Tarsands Oil Pipelines * * Voices for Progress

October 4, 2011
President Barack Obama
The White House 1600
Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. President: We are deeply concerned about recently released emails that add to existing indications that your State Department has abdicated its responsibility to evaluate the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline in an impartial way.

The Keystone XL pipeline would carry the world’s dirtiest oil from Canada’s tar sands through America’s heartland to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The pipeline is dirty at both ends and dangerous in between. Tar sands oil extraction poisons the drinking water of indigenous First Nations communities, and refining tar sands oil from the Keystone XL would increase air pollution that causes health problems for low income communities and communities of color who live near the end of the pipeline, in Texas.

Farmers and ranchers who live along the proposed pipeline route, which crosses the Ogallala drinking water aquifer as well as Nebraska’s fragile Sand Hills, are concerned about pipeline spills, with good reason: the pipeline’s smaller predecessor, the Keystone I, has spilled a dozen times in just its first year of operation, and a recent tar sands oil spill devastated communities surrounding Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.

Moreover, tar sands oil produces far more climate-destabilizing pollution than conventional oil. One of the most respected climate scientists in the world, Dr. James Hansen of NASA, recently concluded that failure to keep tar sands oil in the ground could be "game over" for the climate. These serious threats are the reasons our organizations strongly oppose construction of this pipeline -- and they are why we are so concerned about the newly released emails.
The e-mails first covered in the Washington Post, indicate that State Department employees exhibited a pro-pipeline bias at the same time they were supposed to be conducting an independent environmental review. According to the emails, State Department employees provided guidance to and coached pipeline firm TransCanada.

The emails provide evidence of a cozy relationship between lead TransCanada lobbyist Paul Elliott (a former top Hillary Clinton campaign aide) and various State Department officials. And they raise concerns of a revolving door. One of the State Department officials who gave TransCanada advice, David Goldwyn, worked on behalf of oil interests prior to being hired into your administration. He has subsequently left your administration and is now again taking oil money and, in turn, publicly advocating approval of the Keystone XL.

The information contained in the emails is of particular concern given the already existing evidence that the State Department has not taken seriously its obligation to impartially evaluate the impacts that this pipeline would have on the environment. Last fall, Secretary of State Clinton said she was "inclined" to recommend that you approve a permit for the pipeline, prejudging the environmental review for which her agency was responsible.

And in June, the Los Angeles Times reported that documents obtained via WikiLeaks indicate then-State Department employee Goldwyn "alleviated" Canadian officials’ concern that pipeline approval was at risk, and that Goldwyn had provided "messaging" advice to the Canadians to help them undertake a public relations effort that could help with pipeline approval.

Mr. President, given this substantial evidence of pro-industry bias within your administration – evidence that the State Department was acting in partnership with the oil industry and Canadian government to secure pipeline approval prior to conducting an environmental review – it would be irresponsible for you to follow the State Department’s guidance as you make your determination about whether the pipeline is in the national interest.

Mr. President, when you ran for office, you inspired millions with your call to "change the way that Washington" works by curbing the influence of lobbyists and corporate cash. During your campaign you said, "I am running to tell the lobbyists in Washington that their days of setting the agenda are over." It is not too late to live up to your promises. Reject this oil lobby influence and ignore the State Department’s biased conclusions.

Consider independent experts’ analyses instead. Mr. President, the State Department has erred, but there is still time for you to do the right thing. Reject this dirty tar sands oil pipeline.


Erich Pica President Friends of the Earth May Boeve Executive Director KierĂ¡n Suckling Executive Director Center for Biological Diversity Harlan Hentges Executive Director Center for Energy Matters (Oklahoma) Carroll Muffett President & CEO Center for International Environmental Law Mike Tidwell Director Chesapeake Climate Action Network Michael Kieschnick President & CEO CREDO Action Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins CEO Green For All Phil Radford Executive Director Greenpeace USA

Tom Goldtooth Executive Director Indigenous Environmental Network John Echohawk Executive Director Native American Rights Fund Peter Wilk, MD Executive Director Physicians for Social Responsibility Rebecca Tarbotton Executive Director Rainforest Action Network Michael Brune Executive Director Sierra Club David Daniel President STOP — Stop Tarsands Oil Pipelines (Texas) Bill McKibben Organizer Sandy Newman President Voices for Progress

cc: Secretary Hillary Clinton Administrator Lisa P. Jackson Chairperson Nancy Sutley

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