Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is at the center of an ethical dilemma involving the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Friends of the Earth, Corporate Ethics International and the Center for International and Environmental Law have filed a lawsuit against Clinton’s State Department, claiming there is a conflict of interest between the department and TransCanada and asking for information about communication between the groups. TransCanada is the company planning to build the pipeline, which could be approved for construction in the coming weeks. Because the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would cross from Alberta into refineries into the United States, it must be approved by the State Department.

But a report created by DeSmogBlog Executive Director Brendan DeMelle points out that a former Clinton campaign aid is now working for TransCanada as a lobbyist. That lobbyist, Paul Elliott, once served as Clinton’s national deputy campaign director and was responsible for strengthening ties with influential Democratic governors back in 2008.

Many in the environmental community say the Clinton-Elliott connection is inappropriate. In 2010, Clinton said she was “inclined” to give the KeystoneXL project a thumbs-up.

In 2010, the State Department rejected a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking to know if Clinton and Elliott had contacted one another about the pipeline last fall. In February 2011, the State Department accepted a similar FOIA request made by Friends of the Earth but failed to meet the deadline to respond.

This is the information, or lack of it, is what spurred the current lawsuit along with requests for Clinton to recuse herself from the approval process. Currently, the State Department is reviewing the project, sifting through thousands of public comments and completing an environmental impact statement.

If approved, the pipeline would provide a system to transport oil from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries in the United States.

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