Skip to main content

The Fight to Stop the Tar Sands Is Not Over

The U.S. Department of State today issued the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for the Keystone XL pipeline project, which would transport tar sands crude oil from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast. Despite the fact that the Alberta tar sands represent the second largest pool of carbon in the world, despite the fact that the tar sands activities threaten endangered species, and despite the high potential for leaks and spills, the State Department concluded that the 1,711-mile pipeline would have a minimal impact on the environment.

If you believe that the pipeline will have a “minimal impact” on the environment, then I’ve got some prime Florida swampland to sell you.

While the department’s approval of the FEIS is disappointing, the project is far from being a done deal. Americans have taken their voices to the street (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to be exact) in protest of the pipeline. And Earthjustice is fighting to make the environmental movement’s voice heard by federal decision makers concerning the tar sands.

Earthjustice expects to submit a Pelly petition calling on Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to promptly investigate and determine whether tar sands activities are weakening treaties that protect endangered and threatened species. If Salazar’s investigation finds that tar sands activities are weakening those treaties, then he is required to report those conclusions to President Obama.

Earthjustice is concerned because tar sands activities are destroying caribou and migratory bird habitat in Alberta—and killing birds that land in toxic wastewater pits, mistaking them for freshwater ponds. The species at risk include the endangered woodland caribou and the whooping crane, both protected under the Convention on Nature Protection and Wild Life Preservation in the Western Hemisphere, along with 130 migratory birds protected under the Migratory Bird Convention.

Our attorneys are also using the power of the law to obtain documents detailing communications between the lead lobbyist for TransCanada, the company proposing the pipeline, and the State Department, the agency that will approve or reject the permit. You see, it just so happens that TransCanada’s lead lobbyist Paul Elliott served as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign manager.

Small world, eh?

Earthjustice’s clients, Friends of the Earth, the Center for International Environmental Law, and Corporate Ethics International submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in December 2010 regarding Elliott’s communications with the State Department concerning the pipeline. After failing to fulfill the request in FOIA’s 20-day response window, the department has stalled and has yet to hand over any of the documents requested. Our clients are interested in examining the communications to discover whether Elliott’s relationship with Clinton played a role in pushing the project forward. We have filed a lawsuit regarding the unlawful FOIA delays and expect to receive documents shortly.