With the Obama administration about to decide whether to green-light a controversial pipeline to take crude oil from Canada’s oil sands to the United States Gulf Coast, e-mails released Monday paint a picture of a sometimes warm and collaborative relationship between lobbyists for the company building the billion-dollar pipeline and officials in the State Department, the agency that has final say over the pipeline.
Environmental groups said the e-mails were disturbing and evidence of “complicity” between TransCanada, the pipeline company, and American officials tasked with evaluating the pipeline’s environmental impact.
The e-mails, the second batch to be released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the environmental group Friends of the Earth, show a senior State Department official at the United States Embassy in Ottawa procuring invitations to Fourth of July parties for TransCanada officials, sharing information with the company about Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meetings and cheering on TransCanada in its quest to gain approval of the giant pipeline, which could carry 700,000 barrels a day.
“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 project for Friends of the Earth. While the e-mails refer to multiple meetings between TransCanada officials and assistant secretaries of state, he said, such access was denied to environmental groups seeking input. Environmental groups argue that the pipeline, known as the Keystone XL project, would result in unacceptably high emissions and disrupt pristine ecosystems.
Before he was TransCanada’s chief Washington, D.C., lobbyist, Paul Elliott was a top official in Mrs. Clinton’s failed 2008 presidential campaign.
Many of the new e-mails are between Mr. Elliott and Marja Verloop, the counselor for energy and environment at the embassy in Ottawa. On Sept. 10, 2010, in response to an e-mail from Mr. Elliot announcing that Senator Max Baucus was supporting the pipeline, Ms. Verloop wrote: “Go Paul!” In an e-mail to David Jacobson, United States ambassador to Canada, she described TransCanada as “comfortable and on board” with some developments in the review process.
Envoys meeting for United Nations climate talks must find a way to extend the world’s only treaty capping greenhouse gases, which is at risk of expiring, environmental groups said as sessions began in Panama City.
The future of the 1997 Kyoto protocol is the most important issue during the Panama talks that opened today, according to Tasneem Essop, international climate-policy advocate for the World Wildlife Fund in South Africa. Progress is needed now if an agreement on extending the pact is to be concluded during negotiations that begin Nov. 28 in Durban, South Africa, Essop said.
“We wouldn’t want Durban or South Africa to be the place where we bury the Kyoto Protocol,” Essop said today at a news conference in Panama City. “We need parties to in fact understand the risks involved in not coming to Durban with clear decisions about the future of the Kyoto Protocol.”
Kyoto’s initial phase, ending next year, binds 35 nations and the European Union to reduce emissions by a collective 5.2 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. Japan, Russia and Canada say they won’t take part in a second phase unless the accord is expanded to bind China, which has become the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, and the U.S., which never ratified the agreement.
A leading Silicon Valley venture capitalist said last week that the US was handing China the opportunity of becoming the leading economy in the world if it loses the “clean tech war”.
“For approximately 2,000 years, China was the preeminent culture, economy and military force in the world,” Claremont Creek managing director Nat Goldhaber said. “The realization is incredibly simple: they want to get back there again.”
Goldhaber compared the example of BrightSource’s Ivanpah project in the Mojave desert, which had been stalled by environmental concerns over a endangered species of tortoise, with China’s 3 Gorges Dam project which saw 1.4 million people relocated.
He told delegates at the Always On Going Green conference in San Francisco: “I have to ask, are we really serious about energy? I would posit at least that we’re not very serious about energy, certainly not compared with the Chinese.”
The European Union urged all nations Sunday to make clear how they will tackle climate change, saying the world needs a roadmap this year on future action even if a treaty appears out of reach.
Negotiators from around the world are meeting through Friday in Panama, hoping to find common ground on the thorniest issues before a closely watched UN climate conference in Durban, South Africa opens on November 28.
The Kyoto Protocol’s obligations for wealthy nations to cut carbon emissions run out at the end of 2012, leading the European Union to propose a temporary new round of commitments under the landmark treaty to avoid any gap.
But chief EU climate negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger said that any new commitments by the Europeans needed to be part of a “broader package,” noting that the bloc accounted for only 11 percent of global emissions.
“I think we need to know… what is this other 89 percent going to commit itself to? This is something where we need to have an answer,” Runge-Metzger told reporters at the talks in Panama City.
“We know of course that Durban is not going to deliver a new legal outcome, a legal treaty. Time is just too short for that,” he said.
“But what we need to produce in Durban is a roadmap towards a global legal framework,” he said.
The Energy Department on Friday approved four more solar energy loan guarantees worth nearly $5 billion, hours before a controversial loan program was set to expire.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department moved to take away control of a failed solar panel maker from its management and transfer it to a court-appointed trustee.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the department completed deals on four projects, including two that were sold late this week by Arizona-based First Solar ( FSLR – news – people ) Inc., a major solar manufacturer that had been seeking three federal loan guarantees for projects in California. The sales were announced Friday along with the loan guarantees.
The loans were approved under the same program that paid for a $528 million loan to Solyndra LLC, a now-bankrupt solar panel maker that has become a symbol for critics of the Obama administration’s green energy program.
Saudi Arabia inaugurated its first solar power plant as the world’s largest oil exporter seeks to diversify energy sources, state-run Saudi Press Agency reported.
Government-owned utility Saudi Electricity Co. (SECO) and Showa Shell Sekiyu K.K., a Japanese energy company partly owned by Saudi Arabian Oil Co., built the plant on Farasan Island off the Red Sea coast, SPA said yesterday. The plant will save 28,000 barrels of diesel fuel normally sent to the island, SPA said, without saying how often the island receives such shipments.