Washington scheduled a public hearing on the controversial pipeline planned to carry oil from tar sands projects in Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the southern U.S. coast.
The president needs to sign off on the project but transferred that authority to the State Department, which has said there were no significant concerns with the pipeline plans.
A consortium of environmental advocacy groups led by Friends of Earth has uncovered, through Freedom of Information Act requests, what they see as a cozy relationship between oil lobbyists and the State Department. Paul Elliot, a lobbyist for TransCanada, served on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's campaign team when she launched her presidential bid in 2008.
Friends of Earth said it's expanded its FOIA request beyond Elliot in order to examine any conflicts of interest between employees at several lobbying companies and the State Department.
"By now it is clear that oil industry influence peddlers rather than scientific facts and public input are driving the State Department," said Damon Moglen, climate and energy director at Friends of the Earth, in a statement.
"While we still have more to learn about the extent of lobbyist influence, it is already clear that President Obama cannot afford to trust the State Department to make the pipeline decision."
The National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resource Defense Council organized a rally Friday near the White House to protest the project. Hundreds of people were arrested during similar protests earlier this year.