It's been five years. On Sept. 19, 2008 TransCanada Corp. of Calgary applied for a permit to build the Keystone-XL pipeline. Bloomberg notes that the State Department, which has to sign off because the project crosses the international boundary, is now completing a second environmental-impact review after President Obama rejected an initial assessment in 2011.
To mark the five-year milestone, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has scheduled a hearing to examine delays. Advocates say the pipeline will bring fuel from a friendly nation thus reducing our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Opponents say the potential harm to water and the environment, should a leak occur, is sufficient to disallow its completion.
But there's a cottage industry developing too that knows how to milk a policy debate for all it's worth...
Yes, the lawyers and lobbyists and ad agencies are making a killing. As the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline enters its sixth year this week with no signs of slowing down, the debate has become one of Washington’s most protracted and pricey lobbying campaigns.
That translates into a lobbyist's bonanza. In all, lobbyists representing more than 50 groups are engaged on the issue and about $1 million has been spent in television ads in 2013 alone, following expenditures of almost $16 million during last year’s election season.
While it may look like the swarm of lobbyists are targeting all of us to create public opinion that may sway our elected officials, their true target is a small group of policy-makers at the U.S. State Department -- and ultimately President Obama, who is expected to make his decision in the coming months.
Billionaire investor Tom Steyer said he would spend $1 million on a four-part ad campaign against the pipeline that started last week. The American Petroleum Institute countered by saying it could spend millions of dollars on new ads backing the pipeline. The environmental group 350.org says it is lining up 160 events in 45 states on Sept. 21 to rally opposition.
By the end of June, 54 companies and interest groups reported lobbying on the project, including TransCanada, Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), the League of Conservation Voters and Laborers’ International Union of North America, according to disclosure reports filed with the U.S. Senate.
Interestingly, public opinion surveys show broad public support for Keystone XL. A March 13-17 Pew Research Center poll, the most recent national survey, found that 66 percent of Americans favor the project, while 23 percent oppose it.
Nonetheless, environmental groups press on for their cause. Earlier this week in Houston, several dozen people showed up and 13 were arrested in a peaceful pipeline protest at TransCanada's Houston office.
Houston Police said several 'protests' have been held in recent years but they've been pretty uneventful. Even TransCanada spokesman Michael Barnes said the turnouts of several such gatherings over the past two years have been minimal and maybe it's because of the weather. "Last time it was five people; one of them played a guitar... and it was hot that day so we offered them water."