Lobbyists go to battle over Keystone pipeline

December 12, 2011
The Hill
Rachel Leven

At least 42 lobbying firms, associations and companies have lobbied on the Keystone XL pipeline since 2009, Senate records show.

Lobbying on the controversial project accelerated this year as the pipeline became a hot-button political issue. Of the 42 entities that have lobbied since 2009 on Keystone, at least 33 of them lobbied on the issue in the most recent quarter, records indicate.

The pipeline began to draw widespread attention earlier this year when environmentalists staged a series of protests at the White House to try and stop the pipeline, which would carry oil sands crude from Canada to Texas. 

The Obama administration eventually delayed a final decision on Keystone until 2013, angering many lawmakers and business groups.

Labor unions, environmental groups, Canadian and American oil companies and corporate ethics group are just a few of the sects represented in the lobbying battle. 

From companies like Exxon Mobile Corp. to grassroots groups like Americans for Tax Reform — not to mention lobbying and law firms like Bryan Cave — the fate of the pipeline has been a top concern for many in Washington.

But supporters of the project are pressuring the administration to act now, keeping opponents on their toes.

“I think we were going under the assumption that the president’s word was never going to be the final word,” said National Wildlife Federation (NWF) spokesman Tony Iallonardo, whose group is lobbying on the pipeline.

Republicans, oil companies, and some labor unions support the project, arguing it would bring jobs to the United States and make the country more energy independent.

But the State Department put the option to create the pipeline on hold last month when it announced that it needed to look into alternative routes through 2013.

The issue resurfaced this week when the GOP tied a provision on Keystone to payroll tax legislation. The provision gives the administration 60 days to issue a permit for TransCanada Corp.’s $7 billion project unless President Obama determines that the pipeline is not in the national interest.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the powerhouse groups advocating for approval of the Keystone project.

“I’m not surprised to see members of Congress concerned about this, and they have every right to be,” Chamber spokesman Matt Letourneau told The Hill.

The Chamber created a coalition of pro-Keystone XL Pipeline partners across the United States. The alliance has more than 200 members, including state chapters of the Chamber, local businesses and statewide associations for a number of industries.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), another top business group, plans to continue pressing the administration, Congress and the State Department for quick approval on the pipeline, according to an association spokesman.

“We’re educating the members of Congress about the importance of this and urging the State Department to move forward,” NAM spokesman Jeff Ostermayer told The Hill.

Iallonardo of the NWF said the lobbying from industry on the pipeline has been intense.

“What’s very clear is that the oil lobby has a lot muscles that it’s flexing right now and it’s putting a lot of resources in. We have to be prepared accordingly,” Iallonardo said.

One lobbyist said the move by Republicans to embrace the pipeline has done more for the issue than K Street ever could.

“Hill activists have inspired additional lobbying instead of the other way around. The lobbyists are following the action on the Hill,” the lobbyist said.

But Iallonardo said “the polluters lobby” has pulled strings in the House to get its way.

“This is the product of the oil industry capturing a lot of members of Congress. We’ve seen it over and over in the last year,” Iallonardo said, citing the slowing of the mercury act and the president’s carbon efforts as examples.

Labor unions are split over the pipeline issue. The GOP has put labor, typically Obama supporters, in an awkward position by leveraging the Keystone XL Pipeline as a labor vote.

The Laborers’ International Union of North America, who has previously come out in support of the pipeline and was registered to lobby on the issue in the third quarter, was unavailable to comment for this article.

The Canadian government, who has expressed its interest in the pipeline being built, has also interacted with the administration on the matter. Most recently, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper discussed the issue with President Obama in a meeting Wednesday at the White House.

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