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State Department defends handling of Canada oil sands pipeline

By Jill Dougherty, CNN
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Mon October 3, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An environmental group won release of e-mails dealing with the Keystone XL oil pipeline
  • It says there was an overly friendly relationship between a U.S. employee and a lobbyist
  • The State Department says the e-mails give only one side of the story

Washington (CNN) -- The State Department said Monday that e-mails it was required to release under a Freedom of Information Act request on a controversial pipeline proposal show only one side of the story and pledged to keep the approval process "transparent."

The e-mails were requested by the environmental group Friends of the Earth. The group said they show an overly friendly relationship between Paul Elliott, the chief lobbyist for the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline from Canada, and Marja Verloop, an energy counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, Canada.

Calling the FOIA request "one-sided," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Verloop "meets regularly with Canadian ministers, but she also meets with industry representatives and environmental groups in Canada, so her job includes engagement across the spectrum. The Friends of the Earth have requested copies of communications between the Department of State and Paul Elliott so, from our perspective, they're only looking for e-mails on half of her work, not her full docket there."

Nuland added, "Miss Verloop herself didn't have any impact or any input in the development of the Keystone environmental impact statement."

That impact statement, released by the State Department in August, found the pipeline would have "limited adverse environmental impacts." The department has been holding public hearings on the project across the country. Environmental groups charge the pipeline would create dangerous emissions and threaten a major water supply to the Midwest.

Asked whether the previous role of Paul Elliott in Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2008 might have any influence on how he is being treated by the State Department, Nuland said: "We do not believe that there is any issue here with regard to affecting in an inappropriate manner the decisions that the secretary needs to make."

"Our view on this from beginning to end is that this department, our folks in Ottawa, behaved transparently and even-handedly with regard to all the groups involved in this process," Nuland said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is responsible for making the decision on whether to approve the pipeline because it crosses international borders. The State Department says it expects her to make that determination sometime around the end of this year or the beginning of 2012.

The proposed pipeline would run from Alberta, Canada, through the midsection of the United States to the gulf coast of Texas.

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