Tar Sands Pipeline Sides Heighten Efforts To Sway Obama

The different sides in the Keystone XL pipeline controversy are stepping up their efforts with new ad campaigns, trying to sway opinions for or against the contentious project.

Those opposing the pipeline have pointed to egregious bias by the State Department, arguing that officials’ close relationships with lobbyists revealed in disclosed emails and the revolving door between tar sands lobbyists and the government have prevented the State Department from making a fair assessment of the project’s costs and benefits. Now, in yet another example of the administration’s cozy relationship with the industry, Obama has hired former Keystone XL lobbyist Broderick Johnson as a top campaign adviser.

Such connections between the government and the industry have prompted the group Tar Sands Action to launch a new ad campaign pressuring Obama to intervene and stop the “environmental crime in progress.” The new ad, which will appear in several newspapers and online, implores Obama, “Deny the Keystone XL pipeline and make good on your promise to run a transparent government that represents the people, not Big Oil.”

In contrast, companies and lobbyists who would benefit from the pipeline have tried to portray the Canadian oil sands as an opportunity to create jobs and reduce dependence on Middle Eastern oil. A recent ad from Ethical Oil presented the project as a human rights issue, saying the United States should be getting more oil from Canada and less from places like Saudi Arabia, where women have few rights.

The advertisement, and many other pro-tar sands campaigns from companies like ExxonMobil, ignores the potential environmental impact and other concerns related to the Keystone XL project.

The proposed TransCanada pipeline, which would stretch 1,700 miles from the Canadian tar sands to the Texas Gulf Coast refineries and cost $7 billion, has drawn criticisms from environmentalists who argue that the project has a significant risk of accidents and that the tar sands oil has a larger carbon output than conventional oil. The industry argues that the pipeline would increase the North American energy supply and create jobs, although the impact on the jobs market has been disputed.

The State Department, which is responsible for approving the project, released a report in August concluding that the pipeline did not pose any significant environmental risks, even though the European Commission and other groups have found conclusive evidence that tar sands oil is almost a quarter more polluting than conventional crude oil.

The debate is not simply between environmentalists and the energy industry: High-ranking U.S. politicians have also voiced their skepticism of the project’s benefits. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wrote in an Oct. 5 letter to Secretary Clinton that he had “serious concern” about approving the pipeline project. Others have also spoken out against the pipeline, but only President Obama has the power to halt the project.

“The president is at a major crossroads in his presidency,” said Bill McKibben, a leading environmental activist and one of 1,253 people arrested in anti-pipeline protests at the white House in August. “The Keystone XL pipeline was pushed through by the worst kind of political cronyism, exactly the kind of thing President Obama promised to stamp out in Washington. The American people deserve better.”

Anti-pipeline activists have been trying to utilize grassroots organizing in the face of industry advertisements and lobbying. Environmentalists are planning a large demonstration at the White House on Nov. 6, and protesters have been meeting Obama at most campaign stops to call for him to stop the pipeline project.

But given the energy industry’s strong connections to the State Department and powerful lobbying efforts, the anti-pipeline activists have a difficult fight ahead.


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Chris Licht

CNN CEO Chris Licht

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