Friday news roundup: Pipeline of political posturing


Letters are flying as congressional lawmakers look to send a persuasive final word to the State Department on the Keystone XL Pipeline project in its final hour of debate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., spoke for the first time against the project in an Oct. 5 missive, but 22 House Democrats signed a letter of support for the project Oct. 19.

TransCanada's 1,700-mile Keystone Pipeline would transport tar sands-extracted oil from Alberta to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries. High Country News' Marian Lyman Kirst wrote in September about the final environmental impact statement and concerns of stakeholder groups, who worry about leaks and spills as well as climate impacts.

The Democrats' letter said the pipeline would put $20 billion into the U.S. economy and create 20,000 construction jobs and that it would "help strengthen our country's energy and national security by importing stable, secure oil from our friendly neighbor Canada and allowing our nation to decrease imports of higher priced 'conflict oil' from regions such as the Middle East and Venezuela, which are not friendly to the United States and do not share our values."

Reid, in his opposition, said there are better ways to create jobs and stimulate the economy, with more sustainable payoffs:

"The proponents of this pipeline would be wiser to invest instead in job-creating clean energy projects, like renewable power, energy efficiency or advanced vehicles and fuels that would employ thousands of people in the United States rather than increasing our dependency on unsustainable supplies of dirty and polluting oil that could easily be exported."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should make a decision on whether to allow the pipeline by mid-November. But if the Environmental Protection Agency or others challenge the State Department's decision, President Obama will be saddled with final say on the issue. That could be determined soon – the EPA is about to release its analysis of the State Department's final environmental evaluation of the project. The decision could affect President Obama's future political chances -- it pits his constituent groups of conservationists and labor unions against each other. He also has to walk a delicate balance of maintaining good U.S.-Canada relations and retaining support in the business community.

Meanwhile Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, reminded the House Committee on Energy and Commerce of his request that they investigate Koch Industries' current involvement in the Canadian oil sands industry and alleged gains should more oil imports enter the United States through that venue.

Charles and David Koch are powerful bankrollers of conservative and Tea Party positions, and Koch-funded advocacy groups have financially supported 22 Republican members and five Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, whose members have led attacks against climate regulations and the Environmental Protection Agency, the LA Times reported.

Waxman began looking into Koch Industries' ties to the tar sands oil industry in May following a SolveClimate investigation, which argued public records showed the company may benefit financially from the pipeline. The Koch brothers own nearly all of the company, which grabs $100 billion annually in revenue. And Koch Industries already oversees nearly 25 percent of the oil sands crude imported to the U.S. today.

Waxman sent a letter to House Energy and Commerce Committee chair Fred Upton, R-Mich. and House Energy and Power Subcommittee chair Ed Whitfield, R-KY urging them to request Koch Industries documents to discern its interest in Canadian oil sands and any gains from the possible pipeline. That request was denied.

But Waxman renewed his request last Tuesday, claiming Koch Industries' subsidiary, Flint Hills Resources Canada LP, had filed legal papers showing "a direct and substantial interest" in the pipeline.

The company has maintained throughout that pipeline approval won't benefit them.

"As we explained to Representative Waxman's staff ... we have no financial interest in the project," Philip Ellender, president and chief operating officer for Koch Companies Public Sector in a statement following Waxman's original letter to the committees. "Given these facts, we are confused about why Koch is being singled out and inserted into these discussions."

Joining the opposition, another cadre of congressmen have also alleged the pipeline's environmental impact statement may have underrepresented potential ecological damage. This came after The New York Times reported the contractor that performed the EIS, Cardno Entrix, listed TransCanada as a major client, which represents a possible conflict of interest since it may gain business if the pipeline goes forward.

"These relationships alarmingly suggest that the process may not have been objective," the representatives wrote in a letter to the State Department, "and this decision is too important to be clouded by even the appearance of impropriety."

Kimberly Hirai is an intern at High Country News.

Image courtesy United States Department of State Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

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