Keystone Prompts Congress to Let Lobbyist Write Letters
The letters commend the State Department for its “thorough and transparent” analysis of the Keystone XL pipeline and urge U.S. officials to approve the project as soon as possible.
At least a dozen state and federal Republican lawmakers wrote in support of the $5.3 billion project that would cross six U.S. states. In doing so, they often pointed to the same facts and the used the same language.
“Keystone XL will be critical to improving American energy security and boosting our economy,” Representative Steve Stivers of Ohio wrote. So did Representative Jackie Walorski of Indiana. And Steve Daines of Montana. And John Carter of Texas. And Phil Gingrey of Georgia.
The wording similarities aren’t coincidental. The letters are all based on correspondence written by the Consumer Energy Alliance, a Washington-based coalition of energy producers and users, including Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) in Irving, Texas, and Dow Chemical Co. (DOW) in Midland, Michigan.
According to the letters, which quote the State Department’s own draft environmental analysis, the project will generate more than $5 billion in economic activity. Most note the “additional 57 mitigation measures” project sponsor TransCanada Corp. (TRP) agreed to take to reduce risks of a rupture.
The State Department also received thousands of comments in opposition from environment groups, including a form letter prepared by an organization that says it supports progressive activism.
The letters based on the industry group’s model reveal a practice common in Washington that often occurs out of public view, Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, which promotes campaign finance reform and ethics in government, said in an interview.
Legislative correspondence and even legislation often are at least partly the work of advocates for the interested parties, she said.
“This is what lobbyists in town get paid for every day,” McGehee said.
Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington group that promotes openness in government, said congressional offices are stretched thin and have to rely on outside research to support public policy positions.
“It’s much more common than most members of Congress would admit,” Drutman said in an interview.
The letters themselves don’t indicate any connection with the Consumer Energy Alliance. Some vary from the format more than others. Walorski’s letter notes the economic impact of Keystone and skips thanking the State Department for its review.
Gingrey’s letter tracks the CEA’s draft letter more closely.
Gingrey considers Keystone an “issue of national security as well as economic development,” said spokesman Jen Talaber. The pipeline would create as many as 7,700 jobs for Georgians, she said, citing a statistic from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which backs the pipeline.
R.C. Hammond, a Consumer Energy Alliance spokesman, said the group sent the letters to dozens of lawmakers to show support for Keystone as the State Department seeks reaction to its draft analysis. That review released in March found little environmental reason for the project not to be approved.
“The letter signatory is behind the letter, our job is to provide the facts and a clear argument why a policy is good or bad for the energy consumer,” Hammond said in an e-mail.
He said he didn’t know how many members of Congress used its letter to submit comments. The group sent a second letter backing the project that garnered about 300,000 signatures from citizens. Local chambers of commerce also signed on in support.
The State Department is releasing public comments -- more than 1 million in total -- as it writes a final version of its environmental report and weighs whether to approve the project from Alberta across Montana and South Dakota en route to Steele City, Nebraska. The project would then connect to a southern leg to Gulf Coast refineries already under construction.
The State Department has jurisdiction because Keystone would cross an international border.
President Barack Obama rejected an original route after officials in Nebraska said it threatened the Sand Hills, a network of dunes and wetlands in the center of the state that rest above an aquifer.
The Calgary-based company then proposed a route that travels further east that avoids the Sand Hills, according to the state. Nebraska’s legislature and governor backed the new path.
The project has since become a yardstick critics say they’ll use to measure of Obama’s seriousness in mitigating the risks of climate change.
Groups such as the Sierra Club argue that Keystone should be rejected because it would promote development of Alberta’s oil sands, which they said would lead to more greenhouse gas emissions that are tied to global warming. The State Department review found that the oil sands would be developed with or without Keystone. The Environmental Protection Agency asked for a fuller review in the final version of the environmental impact statement.
Each week the State Department releases a batch of public comments. When they are all released, the department says it will complete its environmental review. That starts a 90-day analysis to determine whether the project is in the U.S. national interest, when issues including economic impact and foreign relations will be considered.
The letters from the congressmen urge “swift action” in approving Keystone, noting its “promising economic impacts.” Some say Keystone is the “most efficient, safest and least intrusive” option of transporting Canadian oil, and crude from the U.S.’s Bakken Shale.
“It’s no secret that he’s been a very vocal supporter of the pipeline,” Alee Lockman, a spokeswoman for Daines of Montana, said in an interview.
Stivers “has always supported American energy production,” said spokeswoman Kara Hauck in an e-mail. “He received a draft letter supporting the Keystone XL pipeline, reviewed it and signed it because he agreed with it.”
Indiana’s Walorski said in an e-mail that her constituents “overwhelmingly support” Keystone because it benefits supplier companies in the state.
The comments released publicly include dozens of local officials and businesses that urge approval and point to the tax revenue, jobs and economic impact of the pipeline.
Opponents of the pipeline have employed a similar technique.
A letter written by Credo, which describes itself as a social-change organization that backs progressive non-profits and owns a mobile telephone company that generates revenue for causes, has 900 pages attached with names of people endorsing the group’s contention that Keystone is a “cynical sham.”
Some appeals are more personal. One handwritten note includes a picture of family members holding up bottles of clean well water they contend would be at risk if the pipeline is approved.
Stan Karp -- the State Department withholds addresses, so his is unknown -- sent a two-line, typed note: “I know I am a nobody, but I still ask: please do not approve the Keystone.”
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