World and Nation

TransCanada pipeline foes allege bias in State Department emails

A State Department official provided Fourth of July picnic invitations, subtle coaching and cheerleading, and inside information about Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meetings to a Washington lobbyist for a Canadian company seeking permission from the department to build a controversial pipeline that would carry crude from the oil sands of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Emails released Monday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the environmental group Friends of the Earth paint a picture of a sometimes warm and collaborative relationship between the lobbyist for the pipeline company, TransCanada, and officials in the State Department, the agency responsible for evaluating and approving the billion-dollar project.

The written exchanges provide a rare glimpse into how Washington works and the access familiarity can bring. The 200 pages are the second batch of documents and emails released so far.

They also offer insight into the company’s strategy, not revealed publicly before. TransCanada lobbyists exchanged emails with State Department officials in July about their intention to drop their request to operate the Keystone XL pipeline at higher pressures than normally allowed in the United States to win political support, but then suggested they would reapply for the exception once the project had been cleared.

“You see officials who see it as their business not to be an oversight agency but as a facilitator of TransCanada’s plans,” said Damon Moglen, the director of climate and energy projects for Friends of the Earth.

While the emails refer to multiple meetings between TransCanada officials and assistant secretaries of state, he said, such access was denied to environmentalists seeking input, who only had one group meeting at that level.

Environmental groups argue that the pipeline, which could carry 700,000 barrels a day, would result in unacceptably high emissions and disrupt pristine ecosystems.

Wendy Nassmacher, a State Department spokeswoman, disputed that the emails showed a pro-pipeline bias.

“We are committed to a fair, transparent and thorough process,” she said in an email. “Throughout the process we have been in communication with industry as well as environmental groups, both in the United States and in Canada.”