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4:48 pm
Thu January 12, 2012

Heavy Lobbying Before Keystone Oil Pipeline Decision

Originally published on Thu January 12, 2012 9:12 pm

The oil industry and environmentalists are fighting over the Keystone XL pipeline, and in this election year, President Obama is caught in the middle.

The industry says the pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, would create jobs. Environmentalists worry it will lead to more pollution. Obama has until next month to make a decision, and that has both sides lobbying heavily.

The 1,700-mile pipeline would bring oil from Alberta's tar sands down through the middle of the U.S. to Gulf Coast refineries. When the company behind the pipeline, TransCanada, proposed it, executives had no idea it would be so hotly debated.

"The Keystone XL pipeline will be a presidential election issue and will likely play out much broader," observed Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, at a recent industry event in Washington, D.C.

Gerard predicts the pipeline issue will even show up in local political races. As if to ensure that, his group started running a TV ad this week in Midwestern states. It encourages people to call or write Obama, and tell him to approve the pipeline.

Ads from opponents, concerned about pollution associated with tar sands oil, are more difficult to find. They're generally low-budget affairs, like one on YouTube featuring hand puppets. It includes a portrayal of old men around a boardroom table plotting to get the pipeline approved by hiring "the best PR company money can buy."

Just a few months back, it looked like the Obama administration had found a way to put off the sticky election-year issues surrounding the pipeline. The State Department said it would spend more time exploring alternative routes for the pipeline in Nebraska. Many there had expressed concern that it would travel through the environmentally sensitive Sandhills region.

That would have effectively delayed consideration of the project until after the 2012 election. But then Congress passed legislation forcing a decision by Feb. 21.

Now the lobbying campaigns are in full swing. Oklahoma's Republican Gov. Mary Fallin sent a letter to Obama on Tuesday. "I'm encouraging the president to consider signing the Keystone Pipeline agreement so that we can create economic stimulus for our national economy and put Americans back to work," Fallin tells NPR.

Pipeline supporters focus on the benefits of getting oil from a friendly neighbor like Canada, and on the thousands of workers who would get jobs during construction.

"In my opinion, the only thing standing in the way between more energy production in America, and job growth and more economic stimulus in our nation, is the president," Fallin says.

But environmentalists say there are more important issues to consider.

"This is not the right step forward if we want to be building a clean energy future and a clean energy economy in the United States," says Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's International Program.

Casey-Lefkowitz says the pipeline would allow tar sands oil production in Canada to expand. She opposes that because she says it releases more pollution than traditional oil production.

"We've been encouraging our members to call the president and thank him for already standing up to big oil on this pipeline, and say that, essentially, we have his back, we know that he's going to do the right thing," Casey-Lefkowitz says. "We know that he's going to do the right thing and reject the Keystone XL pipeline."

Obama has not said which way he's leaning. As both sides wait for a decision, the lobbying campaign in the U.S. is growing more intense.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. From NPR News, I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. The oil industry and environmentalists are fighting over a proposed pipeline that would run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. And, in this election year, President Obama is caught in the middle. Industry says the Keystone XL pipeline would create jobs. Environmentalists worry it would lead to more pollution. Mr. Obama has until next month to say yes or no on the project, and that has supporters and opponents lobbying heavily. We're going to bring you the debate now from both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. We start in the U.S. with NPR's Jeff Brady.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: The 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline would bring oil from Alberta down through the middle of the U.S. to refineries on the Gulf Coast. When the company behind the pipeline, TransCanada, proposed it, executives had no idea it would be so hotly debated.

JACK GERARD: The Keystone XL pipeline will be a presidential election issue and will likely play out much broader.

BRADY: That's Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute at a recent industry event. He predicts the pipeline issue will even show up in local political races. As if to ensure that, his group started running TV ads this week in Midwestern states.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The Keystone XL pipeline is ready to be built, bringing energy from Canada to power our country safely and responsibly.

BRADY: The ad encourages people to call or write President Obama and tell him to approve the pipeline. Ads from opponents concerned about pollution associated with tar sands oil are more difficult to find. They're generally low-budget affairs, like this one on YouTube that features hand puppets. They portray old men around a boardroom table, plotting to get the pipeline approved.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: But we've got a plan to address the concerns of the people. We've hired the best PR company money can buy.

BRADY: Just a few months back, it looked like the administration had found a way to put off the sticky election year issue surrounding the pipeline. The State Department said it had more work to do on the project and would delay approval until after the 2012 election. But then Congress passed legislation, forcing a decision by February 21st. Now the lobbying campaigns are in full swing. Oklahoma's Republican Governor Mary Fallin sent a letter to President Obama on Tuesday.

GOVERNOR MARY FALLIN: And so I'm encouraging the president to consider signing the Keystone pipeline agreement so that we can create economic stimulus for our national economy and put Americans back to work.

BRADY: Pipeline supporters like Fallin focus on the benefits of getting oil from a friendly neighbor, and the thousands of workers who would get jobs during construction.

FALLIN: In my opinion, the only thing standing in the way between more energy production in America and job growth and more economic stimulus in our nation is the president.

BRADY: But environmentalists say there are more important issues here.

SUSAN CASEY-LEFKOWITZ: This is not the right step forward if we want to be building a clean energy future and a clean energy economy in the United States.

BRADY: Susan Casey-Lefkowitz with the Natural Resources Defense Council says the pipeline would allow tar sands oil production in Canada to expand. She opposes that because it releases more pollution than traditional oil production.

CASEY-LEFKOWITZ: We've been encouraging our members to call the president and thank him for already standing up to big oil on this pipeline and say that, essentially, we have his back. We know that he's going to do the right thing and reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

BRADY: The president has not said which way he's leaning. As both sides wait for a decision, the lobbying campaign in the U.S. is growing more intense. Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.