Activists are pressuring Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to recuse himself from approving the Keystone XL pipeline, even though the former Exxon CEO already promised to step away from the project.
“Secretary Tillerson decided in early February to recuse himself from TransCanada’s application for a presidential permit for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline,” Mark Toner, acting Department Of State spokesman, said in a statement Thursday. He was referring to a Greenpeace-led campaign to force Tillerson to step away from the pipeline’s approval process.
He added: “He has not worked on that matter at the Department of State, and will play no role in the deliberations or ultimate resolution of TransCanada’s application.”
The environmental group asked the Office of Government Ethics, the federal watchdog responsible for weeding out conflicts of interest in the executive branch, to clarify how the pipeline’s approval doesn’t conflict with the former ExxonMobil CEO’s oil interests. Tillerson has direct authority over Keystone’s approval process.
“The time is ripe for OGE to clarify exactly what those commitments mean in one of their first real tests and first real decisions Tillerson may take relating to his former employer,” Greenpeace wrote in a letter to the OGE.
The group believes the former oilman could financially benefit from a completed Keystone, which attempts to shuttle crude nearly 1,200 miles from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Annie Leonard, the group’s executive director, said the head of the Department of State will almost certainly benefit from other oil projects Exxon is invested in.
Greenpeace framed the flub in a different light, suggesting the White House’s statement confirming Tillerson’s decision was in response to pressure from activists.
“Rex Tillerson’s recusal from the Keystone Pipeline decision might have never been transparent to the public without people flooding the lines of the Office of Government Ethics today,” said Greenpeace Climate Campaign Specialist Diana Best.
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