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Keystone XL Decision Highlights Coziness Between Oil and Gas Industry, Obama Administration | DeSmogBlog

Keystone XL Decision Highlights Coziness Between Oil and Gas Industry, Obama Administration | DeSmogBlog.

Mon, 2014-02-03 11:59SHARON KELLY

Sharon Kelly's picture

This past week was good to the oil and gas industry. First, President Obama talked up jobs gains from drilling and labeled natural gas a “bridge fuel” in his State of the Union address, using terminology favored by natural gas advocates.

Then, on Friday, the Obama administration released a much-awaited assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts which concluded that pipeline construction “remains unlikely to  significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands,” effectively turning a blind eye to the staggering carbon emissions from tar sands extraction and expansion plans.

While Mr. Obama’s warm embrace of fossil fuels surprised some environmentalists, it should come as little surprise in light of prior comments made by the CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API).

“It’s our expectation it will be released next week,” Jack Gerard confidently told Reuters, referring to the Keystone XL assessment, while many were still speculating that the report might not be issued until after the November mid-term election. “We’re expecting to hear the same conclusion that we’ve heard four times before: no significant impact on the environment.”

Mr. Gerard added that these predictions were based on sources within the administration.

In fact, as the Keystone decision-making process has unfolded, the oil and gas industry has had — as they’ve enjoyed for decades — intensive access to decision-making in the White House.  This access has helped form the Obama administration’s schizophrenic energy policy, in which the President backs both renewable energy and fossil fuels without acknowledging that the two are competitors. When fossil fuels gain market share, renewables lose.

While even the World Bank has called for immediate action on climate change, the API, which has worked hard to shape Obama’s views on fossil fuels, has also worked to create doubt around the very concept of fossil-fuel-driven climate change and to downplay the impact their industry has had.

There’s no question that the oil and gas industry wields enormous sway inside Washington D.C.

The API has spent $9.3 million dollars this year alone on reportable lobbying expenses, the highest amount in the group’s history, according to data from OpenSecrets.org. This summer, a DeSmog investigation found that API spent $22.03 million dollars lobbying at the federal level on Keystone XL and/or tar sands issues since June 2008, when the pipeline project was first proposed.

The API has also worked hard to convince lawmakers that voters overwhelmingly back the pipeline (despite a groundswell of grassroots organizing that has led to the project’s declining popularity).

This summer, Mr. Gerard’s group launched a massive ad campaign — featuringformer Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — that was timed to be seen by lawmakers in Washington D.C. and when they headed back to their home states for recess. API has also funded astroturf campaigns (exposed by leaked documents), cited questionable job creation numbers, and drawn fire from media watchdogs for playing fast and loose with the facts.

The industry’s influence over Obama’s administration on Keystone XL has at times been downright scandalous. Obama’s State Department hired an API member, Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM), to evaluate the Keystone XL pipeline’s potential environmental impact.

In a blockbuster investigative reportMother Jones revealed that ERM’s Keystone experts previously worked for TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone project, along with other oil and gas companies poised to profit from the pipeline’s construction. When the report was released publicly by the State Department, reporter Andy Kroll had noticed something especially odd: the biographies of each expert had been redacted, suggesting that the State Department may have known of those potential conflicts and attempted to hide that fact.

The State Department’s inspector general promised to investigate the conflict of interest allegations, but the results of those investigations are still not public.

The API has tended to strongly favor Republicans over Democrats in its campaign contributions, but over the past several years, the Obama administration hasreached out to the oil and gas industry group, soliciting its views. Nonetheless, Mr. Gerard remained unsatisfied. “At least they’re listening,” he told Oil and Gas Journal in 2012. “But they’re not following every one of our recommendations.”

If this past week is any indication, that might be starting to shift.

After Obama’s State of the Union address, Mr. Gerard was quick to applaud the President’s description of natural gas — which emits a little more than half as much carbon dioxide when burned as coal, but whose total climate impacts could actually be worse than coal once methane emissions are tallied — saying that the President was evolving.

“This year he gave a full-throated endorsement to natural gas,” Mr. Gerard told theWall Street Journal. “Next year, he’ll be giving a full-throated endorsement to U.S. oil production.”

“His words are going in the right direction for us,” Mr. Gerard added.

The API has emerged as a significant influence over the Obama administration, and its inherently flawed all-of-the-above vision for our energy future.

The reason Keystone XL matters so much is not just as its symbolic importance as the fact that it would reflect a major long-term commitment to continued fossil fuel extraction — at a moment when climate experts are saying we must takeimmediate and drastic action and leave two-thirds of known fossil reserves in the ground.

In his State of the Union, Mr. Obama talked up benefits of oil and gas and thengave mention to renewables like wind and solar, but he showed no awareness that a long-term commitment to fossil fuels is in direct tension with furthering renewable energy.

“If we are truly serious about fighting the climate crisis, we must look beyond an ‘all of the above’ energy policy and replace dirty fuels with clean energy,” the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune said. “We can’t effectively act on climate and expand drilling and fracking for oil and gas at the same time.”

For its part, the API’s stance on climate has long been one of obfuscation. A 1998 API “Communications Action Plan” reads: “Victory will be achieved when … citizens ‘understand’ uncertainties in climate science … [and] recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.'”

Jack Gerard has argued that fracking represents a benefit for the environment,citing the fact that carbon emissions have dropped since the shale boom began.

Not only does this ignore the role that the recession has played in reducing energy consumption, but it also ignores the effects of another key greenhouse gas: methane. There is strong evidence that methane emissions from the oil and gas industry could make natural gas even worse than burning coal, in terms of its overall climate impact.

And, there are signs that the reductions cited by Mr. Gerard are already over. Earlier this month, the EIA announced that CO2 emissions rose 2 percent in 2013, reversing earlier declines.

Of course, if Keystone XL is ultimately approved, carbon emissions can be expected to spike. The pipeline will carry up to 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day. Opening Keystone would emit as much CO2 into the atmosphere as opening six new coal-fired power plants, the Pembina Institute estimated.

“This is a large source of carbon that’s going to be unleashed,” Larry Schweiger, the president of the National Wildlife Federation told The New York Times after the State Department’s Keystone report was released. “We’re headed in a terribly wrong direction with this project, and I don’t see how that large increase in carbon is going to be offset.”

But if you ask Jack Gerard, there’s nothing to worry about. “This final review puts to rest any credible concerns about the pipeline’s potential negative impact on the environment,” he said in a statement. “This long-awaited project should now be swiftly approved.”

Photo Credit: Oil and Gas Well, via Shutterstock.

Keystone XL Decision Highlights Coziness Between Oil and Gas Industry, Obama Administration | DeSmogBlog

Keystone XL Decision Highlights Coziness Between Oil and Gas Industry, Obama Administration | DeSmogBlog.

Mon, 2014-02-03 11:59SHARON KELLY

Sharon Kelly's picture

This past week was good to the oil and gas industry. First, President Obama talked up jobs gains from drilling and labeled natural gas a “bridge fuel” in his State of the Union address, using terminology favored by natural gas advocates.

Then, on Friday, the Obama administration released a much-awaited assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts which concluded that pipeline construction “remains unlikely to  significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands,” effectively turning a blind eye to the staggering carbon emissions from tar sands extraction and expansion plans.

While Mr. Obama’s warm embrace of fossil fuels surprised some environmentalists, it should come as little surprise in light of prior comments made by the CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API).

“It’s our expectation it will be released next week,” Jack Gerard confidently told Reuters, referring to the Keystone XL assessment, while many were still speculating that the report might not be issued until after the November mid-term election. “We’re expecting to hear the same conclusion that we’ve heard four times before: no significant impact on the environment.”

Mr. Gerard added that these predictions were based on sources within the administration.

In fact, as the Keystone decision-making process has unfolded, the oil and gas industry has had — as they’ve enjoyed for decades — intensive access to decision-making in the White House.  This access has helped form the Obama administration’s schizophrenic energy policy, in which the President backs both renewable energy and fossil fuels without acknowledging that the two are competitors. When fossil fuels gain market share, renewables lose.

While even the World Bank has called for immediate action on climate change, the API, which has worked hard to shape Obama’s views on fossil fuels, has also worked to create doubt around the very concept of fossil-fuel-driven climate change and to downplay the impact their industry has had.

There’s no question that the oil and gas industry wields enormous sway inside Washington D.C.

The API has spent $9.3 million dollars this year alone on reportable lobbying expenses, the highest amount in the group’s history, according to data from OpenSecrets.org. This summer, a DeSmog investigation found that API spent $22.03 million dollars lobbying at the federal level on Keystone XL and/or tar sands issues since June 2008, when the pipeline project was first proposed.

The API has also worked hard to convince lawmakers that voters overwhelmingly back the pipeline (despite a groundswell of grassroots organizing that has led to the project’s declining popularity).

This summer, Mr. Gerard’s group launched a massive ad campaign — featuringformer Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — that was timed to be seen by lawmakers in Washington D.C. and when they headed back to their home states for recess. API has also funded astroturf campaigns (exposed by leaked documents), cited questionable job creation numbers, and drawn fire from media watchdogs for playing fast and loose with the facts.

The industry’s influence over Obama’s administration on Keystone XL has at times been downright scandalous. Obama’s State Department hired an API member, Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM), to evaluate the Keystone XL pipeline’s potential environmental impact.

In a blockbuster investigative reportMother Jones revealed that ERM’s Keystone experts previously worked for TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone project, along with other oil and gas companies poised to profit from the pipeline’s construction. When the report was released publicly by the State Department, reporter Andy Kroll had noticed something especially odd: the biographies of each expert had been redacted, suggesting that the State Department may have known of those potential conflicts and attempted to hide that fact.

The State Department’s inspector general promised to investigate the conflict of interest allegations, but the results of those investigations are still not public.

The API has tended to strongly favor Republicans over Democrats in its campaign contributions, but over the past several years, the Obama administration hasreached out to the oil and gas industry group, soliciting its views. Nonetheless, Mr. Gerard remained unsatisfied. “At least they’re listening,” he told Oil and Gas Journal in 2012. “But they’re not following every one of our recommendations.”

If this past week is any indication, that might be starting to shift.

After Obama’s State of the Union address, Mr. Gerard was quick to applaud the President’s description of natural gas — which emits a little more than half as much carbon dioxide when burned as coal, but whose total climate impacts could actually be worse than coal once methane emissions are tallied — saying that the President was evolving.

“This year he gave a full-throated endorsement to natural gas,” Mr. Gerard told theWall Street Journal. “Next year, he’ll be giving a full-throated endorsement to U.S. oil production.”

“His words are going in the right direction for us,” Mr. Gerard added.

The API has emerged as a significant influence over the Obama administration, and its inherently flawed all-of-the-above vision for our energy future.

The reason Keystone XL matters so much is not just as its symbolic importance as the fact that it would reflect a major long-term commitment to continued fossil fuel extraction — at a moment when climate experts are saying we must takeimmediate and drastic action and leave two-thirds of known fossil reserves in the ground.

In his State of the Union, Mr. Obama talked up benefits of oil and gas and thengave mention to renewables like wind and solar, but he showed no awareness that a long-term commitment to fossil fuels is in direct tension with furthering renewable energy.

“If we are truly serious about fighting the climate crisis, we must look beyond an ‘all of the above’ energy policy and replace dirty fuels with clean energy,” the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune said. “We can’t effectively act on climate and expand drilling and fracking for oil and gas at the same time.”

For its part, the API’s stance on climate has long been one of obfuscation. A 1998 API “Communications Action Plan” reads: “Victory will be achieved when … citizens ‘understand’ uncertainties in climate science … [and] recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.'”

Jack Gerard has argued that fracking represents a benefit for the environment,citing the fact that carbon emissions have dropped since the shale boom began.

Not only does this ignore the role that the recession has played in reducing energy consumption, but it also ignores the effects of another key greenhouse gas: methane. There is strong evidence that methane emissions from the oil and gas industry could make natural gas even worse than burning coal, in terms of its overall climate impact.

And, there are signs that the reductions cited by Mr. Gerard are already over. Earlier this month, the EIA announced that CO2 emissions rose 2 percent in 2013, reversing earlier declines.

Of course, if Keystone XL is ultimately approved, carbon emissions can be expected to spike. The pipeline will carry up to 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day. Opening Keystone would emit as much CO2 into the atmosphere as opening six new coal-fired power plants, the Pembina Institute estimated.

“This is a large source of carbon that’s going to be unleashed,” Larry Schweiger, the president of the National Wildlife Federation told The New York Times after the State Department’s Keystone report was released. “We’re headed in a terribly wrong direction with this project, and I don’t see how that large increase in carbon is going to be offset.”

But if you ask Jack Gerard, there’s nothing to worry about. “This final review puts to rest any credible concerns about the pipeline’s potential negative impact on the environment,” he said in a statement. “This long-awaited project should now be swiftly approved.”

Photo Credit: Oil and Gas Well, via Shutterstock.

SIRC chair’s pipeline lobbying seen as symptom of larger problem – Politics – CBC News

SIRC chair’s pipeline lobbying seen as symptom of larger problem – Politics – CBC News.

Former cabinet minister Chuck Strahl was appointed last year to chair the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which oversees Canada's spy agency, CSIS. Word that Strahl has been hired as a lobbyist for pipeline company Enbridge has raised concerns among environmentalists and others.Former cabinet minister Chuck Strahl was appointed last year to chair the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which oversees Canada’s spy agency, CSIS. Word that Strahl has been hired as a lobbyist for pipeline company Enbridge has raised concerns among environmentalists and others. (Canadian Press)

A former head of the committee that oversees Canada’s spies has a warning for the current chair: It’s generally not a good idea for someone in their position to act as a lobbyist.

Paule Gauthier was commenting on questions surrounding former Conservative cabinet minister Chuck Strahl, currently the head of the Security Intelligence Review Committee.

Strahl has come under fire after it was revealed he is also a registered lobbyist for Enbridge, the company pushing to build the Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to B.C.

SIRC’s job is to monitor the activities of CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which has been known to keep tabs on environmentalists and native groups opposed to pipelines. Forest Ethics, a group opposed to Northern Gateway, issued a statement this week calling on Strahl to step down as SIRC chair.

Gauthier, who served as chair of SIRC from 1996 to 2005, doesn’t see a conflict of interest in Strahl working as a lobbyist, but acknowledges it could create the perception of one.

“I think it would be much better to refrain from these activities,” she said in an interview from her law office in Quebec City.

Gauthier says if Strahl has followed the rules and is satisfied he’s not in conflict, there shouldn’t be a problem. But she can see how a SIRC chair doing lobbying work could raise eyebrows.

“It’s putting himself or herself in maybe a difficult situation that you cannot expect when you accept the mandate as a lobbyist,” she said.

Strahl has been quoted as saying he has checked with the federal ethics commissioner to make sure his work is above board. He told one interviewer if SIRC were asked to look at any files involving pipelines, he wouldn’t touch them.

Part-time job

The position of SIRC chair is a part-time job paid on a per diem basis — about $600 a day plus travel expenses. Another former chair says that’s part of the problem.

Ronald Atkey was appointed the first-ever SIRC chair when the committee was established in 1984. He now teaches at the University of Toronto and the University of Western Ontario.

Atkey has long argued the position of chair should be a full-time job with a full-time salary so anyone serving would not have to look for outside work.

“I think the two organizations that Canadians should worry the most about are CSEC (Communications Security Establishment Canada) and CSIS,” he said by phone from London, Ont.

“They’re fine organizations with fine people doing important work. But they’re asked to go close to the line in complying with the law. I think, therefore, to give public comfort that these groups are monitored properly after the fact, I think a full-time watchdog may be in order.”

Wesley Wark sees merit in that idea. He’s a security expert and visiting professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. A part-time chair, he says, is “one of a number of problems that makes the Security Intelligence Review Committee less robust than it could be.”

“I think the position should be full-time and we should also define the job properly,” Wark said.

“You do want someone with considerable stature, considerable power, considerable experience. And somebody really to be a critic when criticism is needed.”

Office cut in 2012

Wark says there was more of that critical oversight when CSIS had its own inspector general.

The Conservative government abolished that office in 2012, arguing it would save money and end duplication by allowing SIRC to take over all monitoring of CSIS. The outgoing director of the inspector general’s office, Eve Plunkett, warned at the time the closure would be a “huge loss.”

Wark believes the government regarded the office and its often critical reviews of CSIS as “an annoyance.” As for Chuck Strahl, Wark says he’s less concerned about the former cabinet minister’s lobbying work than he is with SIRC’s overall ability to act as an effective watchdog.

“I just think, given the ways in which the intelligence world in Canada has been transformed and the problems that it presents and the skepticism that I think now surrounds the notion that anybody is really keeping a watch on intelligence agencies to make sure they don’t break the law or abuse their powers, I think something does need to be done,” he said.

“And that’s the real story. It’s not whether Mr. Strahl is a lobbyist. It’s what do we need to do to fix SIRC.”

Canadian Federal Lobbying: Oil, Banking Dominate

Canadian Federal Lobbying: Oil, Banking Dominate.

Oil, gas and mining industry groups were far and away the most active lobbyists in Ottawa over the past year, according to an analysis from Macleans.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the country’s principal lobby group for oil and gas, made 58 lobbying efforts with the federal government over the past 12 months, the most of any group. In second place is the Mining Association of Canada, with 48 lobbying efforts.

The numbers are based on the federal lobbyist registry, which tracks communications between lobbyists and federal government departments, but offers no detail on how a lobbying effort was received by government officials.

The banking industry has also been prominent in its lobby efforts. The Canadian Bankers Association lobbied the Department of Finance 42 times in the past year, and Royal Bank of Canada alone made 27 efforts.

Check out the Macleans infographic here.

Story continues below

Most Active Lobbyists In Canada

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal

Among groups that lobbied the Prime Minister’s Office directly, the Mining Association of Canada came first, with 11 efforts, according to Macleans.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Keystone XL pipeline builder TransCanada tied for second, with 10 lobby efforts each. The Small Guys Tobacco Group came in fourth, with nine lobbying efforts.

report from the left-leaning Polaris Institute last year said oil and gas interests outstripped all others when it came to lobbying in Canada in recent years. The analysis of lobby registry entries found more than 2,700 meetings between the industry and government officials — a fact the Institute used to argue Canada is becoming a “petro state.”

 

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