Supporters and opponents of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline have recruited former aides to Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama in dueling efforts to influence the White House.
Alberta -- the source of the oil sands that would be sent though TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s pipeline -- hired Boston-based public relations firm Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications Inc. to promote the project, according to disclosure reports. Rasky Baerlein’s chairman, Larry Rasky, worked for Kerry’s first campaign for the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts in 1984, according to his biography on the firm’s website. Rasky also served as communications director for Vice President Joe Biden’s unsuccessful campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
Meanwhile, former White House aide Bill Burton is part of a new coalition of environmental groups opposing the pipeline. Burton, whose outside group raised $65 million in support of Obama’s re-election last year, said the “All Risk, No Reward Coalition” group is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to prod Democratic supporters of the president to push him to reject the pipeline.
“We have an electorate of one: President Obama,” Jane Kleeb, the head of BOLD Nebraska, a group fighting the pipeline, said on a conference call with Burton yesterday.
The increased lobbying efforts reflect a growing urgency as the president’s decision on Keystone looms. Environmentalists view Keystone as a test of Obama’s sincerity about making climate change a priority in his second term after failing to advance legislation to cap carbon dioxide in his first. Republicans and some Democrats in Congress argue Keystone will create jobs and improve U.S. energy security.
The State Department and Obama must approve TransCanada’s petition before it can build the pipeline to carry oil sands from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The State Department is collecting comments on its environmental assessment of the project, released last month.
“The groups in this ‘new coalition’ or the same old groups and professional activists who have been opposing Keystone XL for some time,” Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada, said in an e-mail responding to the Burton group’s announcement.
The pipeline is designed to carry about 830,000 barrels a day from Alberta and oil from shale rock formations in the U.S. along a route that would traverse six Great Plains states. The administration has previously given approval for the pipeline’s southern leg to relieve an oil glut in Cushing, Oklahoma.
The Senate on March 22 approved 62-37 a non-binding resolution encouraging the project’s development. A panel of the House of Representatives is considering its own pro-Keystone legislation tomorrow.
Also, this week, Alberta Premier Alison Redford, is scheduled to visit Washington to give a speech and to “meet with several legislators and administration officials on both sides of the Keystone debate,” her office said in a press release announcing the trip. It’s her fourth to Washington in 18 months.
In remarks at the Brookings Institution, a public-policy research center, Redford plans to describe the economic benefits to both nations if the U.S. permits construction of the Alberta- to-Texas pipeline, according to the press release.
Alberta is running advertisements in Washington-area newspapers over the next four days, as it seeks to emphasize its “strong environmental policy” and efforts to curb greenhouse- gas emissions, spokeswoman Neala Barton said.
Obama rejected TransCanada’s initial permit application in January 2012, inviting the company to re-apply with a route that didn’t cross an ecologically sensitive area of Nebraska. He told Republican senators last month that he plans to make a decision on the company’s revised application, which is opposed by environmentalists, by the end of this year.
In addition to Rasky, Alberta hired Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti to engage in “direct lobbying of U.S. government officials” on the Keystone project, according to a disclosure report. It will be paid $72,563 (C$74,000), with the contract running from March 15 to June 1, according to the filing.
The hiring of the Mehlman firm was filed with the U.S. Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act on March 20, and the Rasky Baerlein hiring was filed on April 3.
Two of the Mehlman firm’s principals have Republican ties: Bruce Mehlman was an assistant secretary of Commerce under President George W. Bush and general counsel to the House Republican Conference, and Alex Vogel was chief counsel to Tennessee Republican Bill Frist when he was Senate majority leader.
The Mehlman firm also has ties to Kerry. David Castagnetti is a Democratic strategist who was the main liaison to congressional leaders for Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.
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