Official, pipeline lobbyist e-mails questionedWASHINGTON — The State Department has released a new series of e-mails about the controversial Keystone pipeline proposal that show a friendly relationship between a U.S. Embassy official in Ottawa and TransCanada’s Washington lobbyist.
By: JULIET EILPERIN AND STEVEN MUFSON , The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — The State Department has released a new series of e-mails about the controversial Keystone pipeline proposal that show a friendly relationship between a U.S. Embassy official in Ottawa and TransCanada’s Washington lobbyist.
At times, State Department official Marja Verloop — who oversees energy, science and environmental issues at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa — appears to be cheering on TransCanada’s Washington lobbyist Paul Elliott in his efforts to enlist congressional support for the pipeline extension.
On Sept. 10, 2010, for example, Verloop sent a congratulatory message to Elliott after he forwarded a press release to multiple people announcing that Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., backed the pipeline project.
“Go Paul! Baucus support holds clout,” Verloop wrote.
This is the second batch of e-mails obtained by Friends of the Earth through a Freedom of Information Act filing. Friends of the Earth said the e-mails showed State Department “bias” in favor of a project it is supposed to be evaluating and “complicity” between State and TransCanada.
“We are committed to a fair, transparent and thorough process,” a State Department spokesman said in a statement Sunday. “Throughout the process we have been in communication with industry as well as environmental groups, both in the United State and in Canada. ... We listen to all opinions, but there is much more that goes into the national interest determination decision.”
The department found in August that construction of the Keystone XL pipeline will have “limited adverse environmental consequences.” It must still rule on whether construction of the pipeline is in the U.S. national interest.
The pipeline would go through western South Dakota.
On July 26, 2010, Verloop and Elliott corresponded about TransCanada’s decision not to ask for permission to operate the pipeline at a higher-than-normal pressure. The question of pipeline pressure has been a source of considerable debate, especially in states such as Nebraska, where the pipeline would be buried.
“I take it withdrawing the request does not preclude TCPL (TransCanada Pipelines) from re-submitting in the future?” Verloop asked.
Elliott replied that she was “correct” that “withdrawing our request for a special permit at this time, allows TransCanada to submit a request for a special permit at a later date.” The process for consideration would start from scratch and include an environmental assessment.”
Elliott and Verloop also corresponded about a delay in the environmental assessment of the project that was prompted by an objection from the Environmental Protection Agency, which classified State’s review as “inadequate.” Elliott reported that his firm’s officials had learned the 90-day review would “delay ... State’s recommendation of a presidential permit but such a delay won’t be as long as the one advocated for by the EPA.”
The next day, in response to an e-mail from U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson, Verloop forwarded part of the exchange with Elliott. He also assured the ambassador and another embassy staffer who works on energy issues, Lonzell Locklear, that “TransCanada is comfortable and on board” with the delay.
Throughout their e-mail correspondence, Verloop and Elliott engage in friendly banter. On Dec. 14, 2010, in which Verloop has forwarded a news story about Elliott’s lobbying activities, she wrote, “When are you coming up to visit? It’s a snowy winter wonderland here this morning.”
In the same e-mail, Verloop provided an update on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit to Ottawa for a trilateral meeting of North American governments. She wrote that she “oversaw” Clinton’s visit, adding, “KXL was not raised, but (Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Gary) Doer flew back on plane with her.”
On April 7, 2011, Verloop complained about the fact that Elliott did not attend an event in Ottawa on April 6. Verloop wrote in response to an unrelated e-mail: “No show last night :( “
Elliott explained in a reply that same day he had to work, adding: “I’m sure it was a lot more fun in Ottawa. I hope you are doing well.”