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Bill McKibben Links Obama/State Dept. Cronyism to Cheney’s Energy Task Force; Supports #Occupy

Bill McKibben, founder and leader of the recent TarSands protests and arrests in front of the White House, has an op-ed in the New York Times today that will not make President Obama happy.

McKibben pointedly links the corporate cronyism shown by the Obama State Department’s cozy relationship with the sponsors and lobbyists for the Keystone XL Pipeline with Dick Cheney’s Big Oil dominated 2001 energy task force.

In The Cronyism Behind a Pipeline for Crude, McKibben also gives a shoutout to #OccupyWallStreet. McKibben’s became possibly the first climate change organization to co-sponsor, along with several large labor unions and others, Wednesday’s supportive march in New York City.

In August, McKibben organized three weeks of White House arrests and spent, along with a few friends, two days in jail over protesting the Keystone XL project.  Echoing the Occupy participants, he says “we’re increasingly unwilling to believe political reform can be accomplished by going through the ‘normal channels’ of democracy.”

It’s easy to understand why. In the first few months of the Bush administration, the vice president’s staff held a series of secret meetings with energy company executives to come up with a new energy policy that, essentially, gave big oil everything it asked for. When journalists learned about the secret sessions, they became a scandal — environmental groups complained long and loud, right up to the Supreme Court, and rightly so. Important decisions should be made in the open, not behind closed doors by cronies scratching one another’s backs.

In 2008, Barack Obama promised to turn things around with new ethics guidelines and promises of transparency. But if two batches of e-mails released via the Freedom of Information Act — the first last month and the second on Monday — are any indication, he’s not delivering on that promise.

The e-mails, made available by the environmental group Friends of the Earth, show something just as tawdry as Dick Cheney’s backroom dealing: the State Department working with lobbyists to advance the interests of TransCanada, the company trying to build the Keystone XL pipeline from the tar sands of Canada across the center of the continent. Even as the State Department was supposedly carrying out a neutral evaluation of the pipeline’s environmental impact, key players were undermining the process.

It was already known that Hillary Clinton’s former deputy national campaign manager, Paul Elliott, became a principal lobbyist for TransCanada, Keystone’s sponsor.  E-mails disclosed via a FOIA request from Friends of the Earth revealed Elliott received friendly encouragement from a U.S. Embassy employee in Canada praising Elliott, adding “it’s precisely because you have connections that you’re sought after and hired.”

And how neutral was the State Department about the plan it was supposedly evaluating? Here’s Ms. Verloop again, in response to an e-mail from Mr. Elliott relaying the good news that he had persuaded Senator Max Baucus of Montana to back the pipeline: “Go Paul!” Clearly, these guys are on the same team, never mind that one of them works for the energy company and the other for the government agency overseeing it.

With a conflicted contractor managing the environmental review,  its not surprising the State Department’s final Environmental Impact Statement determined there would be no significant impact.   McKibben responds:

This is laughable — we’re talking about connecting a pipe to one of the largest pools of carbon on earth. Twenty of the nation’s top scientists sent the administration a letter this summer explaining what a disaster it would be. According to NASA’s chief climate scientist, James Hansen, if we tapped the tar sands heavily, it would be “essentially game over” for the climate.

But instead of listening to bright people like Mr. Hansen who know what they’re talking about, our government’s staffers are blowing kisses at lobbyists. That’s exactly why cronyism is such a problem. The people writing these e-mails don’t have expertise — they have connections. If this is happening in the State Department, why should we not assume it’s also going on in the Treasury Department’s dealings with the big banks, and just about everywhere else in government?

Barack Obama was supposed to be different.  And Bill McKibben isn’t going to let him forget that.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley