March 9 (UPI) -- In a letter to the environmental group Greenpeace on Thursday, a State Department spokeswoman said Secretary Rex Tillerson has recused himself from deliberations over the Keystone XL pipeline.
Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, was targeted by Greenpeace, who argued his ties to the oil industry could have influenced his role in negotiations with Canada over the pipeline's construction.
Tillerson's former employer stands to benefit financially if oil extracted from the tar sands in Canada is supported by the pipeline's construction, Greenpeace said.
The State Department's ethics adviser, Katherine McManus, said Tillerson has not worked on the Keystone XL pipeline project and will designate oversight to a subordinate empowered to act on the department's behalf.
"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," McManus wrote.
TransCanada is the company seeking approval to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
Its construction has been a hot-button issue for environmentalists and the oil industry. Former President Barack Obama scuttled the pipeline over environmental concerns. TransCanada argued the pipeline is the most efficient way to move oil from the Canadian prairie to market in the Gulf of Mexico.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order reviving the permit process shortly after taking office.