Canadian oil company TransCanada aims to build Keystone XL, a pipeline that would transit oil from tar sands projects in Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the southern U.S. coast.
Environmental groups, led by Friends of the Earth said there is a conflict of interest between the U.S. State Department and TransCanada. Paul Elliot, a lobbyist for TransCanada, served on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign.
Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary at the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, said following public hearings regarding the pipeline in Washington that the State Department was committed to an impartial and transparent review of the pipeline.
"Past relationships are not of importance," she said in response to queries about Elliot.
The State Department, in an environmental review, said it didn't find significant threat from the pipeline. Critics complain the route would run through key aquifers and migratory bird pathways. Alberta crude also lingers in the environment long that conventional crude.
The State Department is expected to make a decision on Keystone XL by the end of the year.