The cleanup is still underway from a massive pipeline spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, but you don't hear anything about it at public hearings across the nation dealing with the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline. Resolutions supporting the controversial KXL pipeline have now been introduced in seven states, but while TransCanada, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Chamber of Commerce have been lobbying in force for the bills to pass, there have been few opposing voices by either Democrats or environmentalists at public hearings dealing on the measures. The massive pipeline project will transport tar sands crude oil from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries for processing and export and once underway, the project will be a major contributor to global warming.
In February, CMD reported on state resolutions calling for the approval of the KXL pipeline project inMississippi, Michigan, Minnesota, and Missouri. The language in three of these resolutions closely matched a "backgrounder" from TransCanada. The forth resolution, introduced in Missouri, mirrored a resolution from the American Legislative Exchange Council.
In the last few months, Ohio, Kansas, and Indiana have introduced very similar resolutions, which also feature paragraphs from TransCanada’s own materials. Although these resolutions are non-binding, they will be showcased by industry lobbyists as evidence about how state legislators (and by extension the public) feel about the pipeline project in an attempt to influence the pending State Department decision on KXL. While opponents of KXL have been active on many fronts, their absence from state legislatures nationwide has been notable.
Industry Turns Out in Force, But Face Little Opposition
In written testimony for a committee hearing on the Kansas resolution, a lobbyist from the Kansas Petroleum Council described it as being "part of a nationwide effort to show Washington that states support the pipeline." Pro-pipeline groups certainly seem to be organized in a coordinated national effort, with lobbyists from TransCanada, the American Petroleum Institute (or their local affiliates like Kansas Petroleum Council), and the Chamber of Commerce all attending committee hearings. But the attendance from environmental groups has been patchy at best and the support for their efforts from Democratic lawmakers has been weak.
On February 12, 2013, the Michigan resolution – SCR6 – received a hearing in the Senate Energy and Technology Committee, at which industry groups turned out in force. Lobbyists from the API, TransCanada,the Detroit Regional Chamber, and DTE energy were all there to make the case for KXL, but as shown in theminutes there was not a single member of the public recorded as opposing KXL. The vote passed 5-1, with two committee members leaving the room just five minutes before the vote. And when two weeks later a vote was held on the House version of the bill in the House Energy and Technology Committee, again lobbyists from API, TransCanada, the Detroit Regional Chamber, and DTE Energy – as well as from Michigan Laborers Union – turned up to support the resolution. There was not a single voice of opposition and the Committee passed the resolution 16-0. The bill passed a floor vote in the House 88-20 on March 5, 2013.
Of the 20 legislators who co-sponsored the Mississippi Senate resolution – SR3 – half were Democrats. The bi-partisan bill passed the Mississippi Senate on March 15 with a 32-14 vote. The Ohio House bill - HCR9 - passed a floor vote 87-7 in a body that is split 61-38 in favor of Republicans. The Ohio Senate is yet to hold a hearing on its version of the bill, SCR7.
In the Kansas House committee hearings for HCR5014, environmental advocates from the Sierra Club and Kansas Interfaith Power & Light did attend to oppose the pipeline, along with lobbyists in favor from TransCanada, the local API affiliate (Kansas Petroleum Council), and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. But while the lobbyist-advocate turnout was more balanced, the actual vote was not – it eventually passed a floor vote 108-11 on March 26, 2013, with many Democrats supporting the bill.
During committee hearings on the resolution in both the Indiana House and Senate, according to Jesse Kharbanda of the Hoosier Environmental Council (who testified on the risks and alternatives to tar sands at the hearing), just two legislators of the combined two-dozen present expressed any concern about the environmental impact of the tar sands project on the environment.
"Just one legislator on these committees acknowledged the Arkansas, Michigan, and Minnesota tar sand spills in the last three years and, as if environmental damage happening outside of our country didn't matter, just one acknowledged the massive clear-cutting and enormous toxic sludge ponds that are having here-and-now impacts on communities and wildlife in Canada,” said Kharbanda in a recent interview with CMD.
Once again, lobbying in favor of the Indiana resolutions was the local API affiliate (Indiana Petroleum Council), the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, and the Indiana State Building and Construction Trades. The bill passed the Indiana House Utilities and Energy Committee 10-2, and is set for a floor vote soon.
58,000 Activists Pledge to Be Arrested, But Little State House Opposition
Despite the lack of significant activity opposing the pipeline in state houses, there is plenty happening across the country by activists. Grassroots organizers held 55 separate actions across North America, during a week of action from March 16th to March 23rd. Anti-KXL banners have been unfurled, and speeches from TransCanada executives have been disrupted. Just this weekend a Valero sponsored golfing event wasinterrupted by protest. (Valero own refineries due to process the tar sands when it would arrive via KXL in Texas.) And more than 58,000 people have now signed the Credo, 350.org, Rainforest Action Network pledge, to engage in civil disobedience to stop the pipeline.
Keystone XL pipeline protests at White House 2011It is now just over a week since the Exxon pipeline disaster in Mayflower, Arkansas. Exxon is reportedlythreatening journalists with arrest when they try to cover the story and is apparently in charge of an FAA “no-fly zone” over the spill site. It remains to be seen if the disaster will significantly impact the conversations over Keystone, but it is likely that the recent pipeline spills won't even be mentioned if opponents of the pipeline are not as organized as supporters.
The next committee hearing will be in the Ohio Senate on April 9, 2013 - Public Utilities Committee, 2:30 PM, Finance Hearing Room.