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State Department’s Refusal to Disclose Tar Sands Communications Challenge

Case Overview

Alberta, Canada. Tar sands mining operations permanently damages the environment, destroying forests and wetlands, with vast drilling infrastructure, open pit mines, and toxic wastewater ponds up to three miles wide.
(Velcrow Ripper / Flickr.)

Earthjustice is representing environmental and ethics groups in challenging the U.S. State Department’s refusal to disclose communication records with a lobbyist for TransCanada Pipelines, Paul Elliott, who was previously a presidential campaign manager for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Disclosure of these communications may reveal improprieties in the State Department’s decision-making with respect to TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline that would transport tar sands crude oil to from Alberta, Canada to U.S. refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Before deciding whether to grant a permit, the State Department must analyze the pipeline’s risks, finalize an Environmental Impact Statement, and determine whether the pipeline is in the public interest. After the Environmental Protection Agency told the State Department its draft environmental impact statement was inadequate, Secretary Clinton nonetheless said that the State Department was “inclined to approve” the permit. The State Department plans to make a final decision about the Presidential Permit before the end of 2011.

Tar sands mining operations destroy forests and wetlands, with vast drilling infrastructure, open pit mines, and toxic wastewater ponds up to three miles wide, permanently damaging the environment. The extraction process involves strip mining and in situ drilling that injects steam into the ground to melt the tar-like crude oil from the sand and requires massive amounts of energy and water. In fact, tar sands oil production emits about three times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions as extraction of conventional oil and uses from two and a half to four times the amount of water. The construction and operation of the Keystone XL pipeline itself poses additional environmental risks, including potential contamination of major freshwater aquifers.

Case Updates

February 8, 2012 | Blog Post

Times Columnist Spouts Keystone Nonsense

The New York Times describes Joe Nocera as a business columnist, but a quick scan of recent columns is very heavy on pieces about the woes of the NCAA, the National Collegiate Athletic Association. If today’s column is any indication, we’d all be better off if he stuck with sports.

October 6, 2011 | Blog Post

Plot Thickens On Politics Of Keystone Pipeline XL

Documents released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Earthjustice have uncovered strong ties between Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and the team of lobbyists hired to promote the pipeline’s approval at the State Department.

August 26, 2011 | Blog Post

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.