By Elana Schor
The lobbying tussle over the Keystone XL oil pipeline escalated further today ahead of an event at which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is set to deem approval of the $7 billion Canada-to-U.S. oil link one of its top priorities for 2012.
In a letter headlined by the chamber and the American Petroleum Institute (API), more than 100 industry groups urged President Obama to greenlight the 1,700-mile XL line "as soon as possible." At the same time, liberal groups that often challenge the business behemoth's priorities as too linked to its corporate donors pushed back early against chamber President Tom Donohue's expected plug for Keystone XL during his annual "State of American Business" speech tomorrow.
Today's jockeying marked a fresh round of jabs from industry and environmental activists in a politically charged battle over the pipeline that can only grow fiercer ahead of the Feb. 21 deadline for the Obama administration to rule on the XL line.
Even if the State Department follows through on signals that it would recommend a rejection of the pipeline, which would nearly double U.S. import capacity for Canadian oil-sands crude, the chamber and its Republican allies in Congress view the project as a political winner at a time when unemployment is top of mind for voters in an election year. Citing industry-backed estimates of 20,000 direct jobs created during construction of the pipeline, the chamber and API wrote to Obama: "With our nation's stubbornly high unemployment, it would be irresponsible to let such good-paying jobs slip away."
National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Vice President Jeremy Symons, who joined other liberal-leaning groups today to undercut the Chamber's agenda ahead of Donohue's speech, challenged the group's claim to speak for American businesses.
"The national Chamber of Commerce's support for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline scam," Symons said today, indicates "again that the chamber is a pay-to-play operation that has been taken over by oil companies with the biggest profits."
NWF and fellow liberal groups opposed to the XL link due to the ecological and safety risks of transporting oil-sands crude made their pre-emptive move as Donohue's speech is expected to center around a call for Obama to approve the project. Held every January before the presidential State of the Union address, the chamber's "State of American Business" address is typically watched closely by media and stakeholders as a barometer of where the group plans to direct a federal influence budget that routinely stretches into the nine-figure range.
Symons predicted, as many environmentalists have in recent weeks, that the White House would turn down Keystone XL next month as a consequence of congressional Republicans forcing its hand on the project ahead of an Obama-backed postponement of a decision until 2013. "I do think it will be denied, but I don't think they're going to let up," he added of the project's industry backers.