Lobbying activities surrounding the Keystone pipeline project could reach a fever pitch in the next few weeks.
A Republican provision in the payroll-tax extension called for President Obama to make a decision on the Keystone pipeline project by late February. Administration officials told The New York Times last week that the deadline will probably mean cancellation of the project, which calls for construction of a pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.
Authorities in the State Department, which has authority over the final permit, say the deadline doesn’t give them enough time to complete an environmental review. Obama has said he will go along with the department’s decision.
Denial of the permit would mean that backers would have to re-start an application and review process that could take years.
The project has sparked heavy lobbying not only from TransCanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline, but from the oil industry, environmental organizations and business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.
“If the president is serious about job creation and energy security, now is the time to act on the Keystone XL pipeline,” said president and CEO Tom Donohue.
The Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy has launched the Partnership to Fuel America, made up of more than 200 businesses and industries supporting the project. The group has not independently registered as a lobbying client.
On the other side of the issue are environmentalists concerned about the pipeline’s potential impact in the Sandhills of Nebraska and a Great Plains water source called the Ogallala Aquifer. More generally, they oppose increased use of tar sands oil, describing it as a dirty energy source.
Republicans clearly want a decision before the presidential election. Approval of the project would alienate environmentalists, who lean Democratic. Rejection would undoubtedly be described by Obama’s opponents as an anti-jobs stance.
In the current economy, the jobs issue carries significant political traction.
Keystone estimates that the pipeline would create 20,000 jobs – 13,000 in construction and 7,000 in manufacturing.
Environmental groups say the numbers are wildly exaggerated. The State Department has estimated that the project will create 5,000 U.S. jobs during the two-year construction period.
A Cornell University study determined that the project would not create U.S. jobs and could raise energy costs in the Midwest.
TransCanada remains steadfast in its determination to complete the project, calling it shovel-ready and crucial to the U.S. economy and national interest.
The company’s lobbying activity has had its controversies. Its registered lobbyist, Paul Elliott, was national deputy campaign manager for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and knows many people who now work for the State Department under Clinton.
As the Washington Post wrote in September, Elliott tried to arrange meetings between department officials and TransCanada execs, offering the company’s assistance in drafting an agreement.
TransCanada reported spending $920,000 on lobbying activities in the first three quarters of 2011. Elliott has contacted not only the State Department, but the Commerce, Energy, Interior and Transportation departments.
The In Situ Oil Sands Alliance, an oil industry group promoting the pipeline, hired a new lobby firm this month – Twenty-First Century Group. Its lobbyists include former U.S. Rep. Jack Fields (R-TX).
In addition to the alliance and TransCanada, the following companies and organizations lobbied on Keystone in the first three quarters of 2011:
- Chamber of Commerce of The U.S.A.
- Exxon Mobil Corp
- National Association of Manufacturers
- Chevron U.S.A. Inc.
- American Petroleum Institute
- National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
- Marathon Oil Corporation
- Nuclear Energy Institute, Inc
- Lyondell Chemical Company
- Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund
- Xcel Energy, Inc
- Deere & Company
- American Iron and Steel Institute
- Building and Construction Trades Dept., AFL-CIO
- Valero Energy Corporation
- Sierra Club
- International Union of Operating Engineers
- Farmers Educational Cooperative Union of America
- Defenders of Wildlife
- National Wildlife Federation
- United Assn of Journeymen & Apprentices of The Plumbing & Pipefitting Industry
- Laborers’ International Union of North America
- National Taxpayers Union
- League of Conservation Voters
- American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
- Western Organization of Resource Councils