Keystone Clout: Canada flexes lobbying muscles over controversial pipeline
The existing Keystone pipeline - which developers hope to extend -- delivers Canadian crude from Alberta's tar sands to storage tanks in Cushing, Oklahoma. Toronto Star photo by Lucas Oleniuk.
“Mild-mannered Canada” is turning into a Superman of lobbying when it comes to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline -- and Americans are taking notice.
Canada is “making itself seen and heard inside the Beltway,” says the influential National Journal, an online and print publication aimed at Washington insiders that is widely read by members of Congress, White House staffers and Beltway lobbyists.
The Journal’s energy and environment correspondent, Amy Harder, notes that Ottawa has placed advertisements in the Washington subway and the Ronald Reagan National Airport and “plans to step up the campaign in September for what is expected to be the long-awaited homestretch fight over the project.”
President Obama will give the final thumbs up or thumbs down to the 1,897 km pipeline that would stretch from the Alberta oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast sometime this fall.
Harder reports that as a country Canada has “an inherent advantage” over other lobbying groups since Canadian government officials meet regularly with administration officials and Congress.
At the G-8 summit in June “Harper pulled President Obama aside to talk Keystone,” the Journal reports, remarking as well that Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s “aggressive support” for the pipeline has prompted jokes that he is “the worst-paid lobbyist in the oil patch.”
“The fact that any foreign government—and especially mild-mannered Canada—is lobbying so publicly and assertively on one project is unusual,” the Journal argues, but it reflects “how much political capital Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is putting into this issue.”
Meanwhile, the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review has highlighted the local media coverage and mounting debates along the proposed route of the pipeline
“The lobbying is more intense than ever,” the CJR reported, noting that in Washington 48 groups lobbied in Washington on the issue in the first three months of the year, all but two of them apparently in favour of the pipeline.
“TransCanada, the Calgary-based company that seeks to build the pipeline, has played a major role in defining the debate, and continues to do so,” the CJR reports.
In the key state of Nebraska, CJR says TransCanada hired a lobbying firm “to quietly wine and dine members of the state’s … legislature.”
But the CJR warns the pipeline is facing opposition from an unusual alliance of environmentalists and conservatives.
“I’m a capitalist, conservative—really more of a libertarian—not an environmentalist,” Greg Awtry told the CJR. He’s the publisher of Nebraska’s York News-Times and a strong opponent to the pipeline. “It’s just strange bedfellows.”
Lobbying in the court of public opinion and in the corridors of political corridor is likely to intensify in the coming months before the Americans make a final decision of the fate of Keystone.
TransCanada was quick to pounce this weekend, when Obama used an interview with the New York Times to question the economic benefits of the project.
“Republicans have said that this would be a big jobs generator," he said. "There is no evidence that’s true.”
Obama insisted the pipeline would create “a blip” of 2,000 jobs.
But in a widely-covered media statement, TransCanada disputed the president’s figures, insisting the construction phase of the project alone would directly create at least 13,000 jobs.
Still, the dispute over jobs is widely seen as a sideshow compared to the main battle over the environment, with Obama vowing he would approve the plan only if does not pose a "net" increase in greenhouse-gas emissions.
"It's going to take more than a PR campaign to win Obama over on the pipeline," the National Journal concludes, noting that the controversial project has “become a lightning rod in the debate over climate change.”