Green group sues State Department for access to Keystone pipeline files

The Sierra Club announced Tuesday that it is suing the State Department for documents related to a draft environmental review of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

The green group alleges the administration is withholding documents regarding the consulting firm it hired to assess the Canada-to-Texas pipeline.

The Sierra Club contends the consultancy that conducted the analysis had a conflict of interest because it had “financial ties to the pipeline company and the American Petroleum Institute, one of Keystone XL’s most active and vocal lobbyists.”

A March report in Mother Jones said the consulting firm, Environmental Resources Management, had previously done work for Keystone builder TransCanada Corp. and the American Petroleum Institute (API).

That information was scrubbed from staff biographies at the consultancy when State released the firm’s conflict of interest filings when the agency unveiled the draft environmental report, Mother Jones reported.

The Sierra Club said the group’s attempt to acquire that documentation from State through a Freedom of Information Act request was denied, which led to the Monday lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California.

The State Department is in the process of finalizing its environmental review of Keystone. Following that, it will issue a determination of national interest, which will help decide whether TransCanada is awarded a cross-border permit to finish the project.

State signaled with its draft review that it intends to give the project a passing environmental grade.

The agency said Keystone would not accelerate oil sands production. It said other pipelines and rail would bring the carbon-heavy fuel source out of the ground with or without Keystone.

Green groups, who have aired several concerns about the State Department's review process, rejected that finding. They say Keystone is vital for oil sands growth, and that building the pipeline would ramp up greenhouse gas emissions.

They have urged Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryThe evidence backs Trump: We have a duty to doubt election results Effective sanctions relief on Iran for sanctions’ sake What would a Hillary Clinton presidency look like? MORE to more carefully consider the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) criticism of State’s draft environmental review.

The EPA said State’s review was “insufficient,” suggesting that the market analysis used to determine demand for oil sands was flawed.

The agency added that it had “environmental objections” to State’s review.