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State Dept. sued by enviro groups over Keystone XL pipeline communications

A coalition of environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. State Department on Wednesday for the agency’s refusal to turn over communications between Sec. of State Hillary Clinton and a former campaign manager who is now chief lobbyist for TransCanada.

TransCanada, owners of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that is now awaiting Clinton’s approval, hired Paul Elliott, who was the national deputy director of her 2008 presidential campaign, as their lobbyist in D.C. last year. The environmental groups — including Friends of the Earth, Earthjustice, Corporate Ethics International, and the Center for International Environmental Law — filed a Freedom of Information Act seeking any communications between Clinton and Elliott but that request was denied.

The department then appeared to withdraw its denial of that request but it has still not done so, prompting the lawsuit to be filed. In a press release the plaintiffs said:

“Why is the State Department refusing to release these communications?,” asked Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. “This calls into question the agency’s decision to rush the review of the Keystone XL pipeline, despite its massive environmental risks and bipartisan opposition to it.”

Before deciding whether to grant a permit, the State Department must analyze the pipeline’s risks and finalize an Environmental Impact Statement. After the EPA told the State Department its draft environmental impact statement was inadequate, Secretary Clinton nonetheless said, last October, that the State Department was “inclined to approve” the permit. Secretary Clinton’s agency has been criticized by farmers and ranchers in the pipeline’s path for rushing the review process and not holding hearings on the department’s latest draft analysis. The State Department plans to make a final decision about the Presidential Permit before the end of 2011.

“Clearly, TransCanada hired Mr. Elliott to take advantage of his previous service to Hillary Clinton,” said Kenny Bruno with Corporate Ethics International. “We think the public has a right to know in what ways TransCanada and Mr. Elliott have attempted to influence Secretary Clinton’s view of this controversial project.”

You can read the legal complaint here.

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