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January 17, 2012
Congressional Recipients of Oil Industry Money Overwhelmingly Support Controversial Pipeline
    by Robert Kropp

An analysis by MapLight reveals that of the 118 House members who report the oil and gas industry among their top ten contributors, only two voted against legislation calling for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

According to House Republicans at least, an extension of a payroll tax cut somehow requires that President Obama make a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

After their so-called North American-Made Energy Security Act (HR 1938, which passed by a vote of 279-147 in July) died in the Senate, House Republicans retaliated by attaching a rider to payroll tax cut legislation requiring the President to make a decision on construction of the pipeline by February 21.

Environmentalists and many sustainable investors have opposed a proposal by TransCanada to build the pipeline, bringing heavy crude oil from Canadian oil sands to refineries in Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast. Described in a 2008 report as "the most destructive project on Earth," oil sands extraction in Alberta, Canada results in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions approximately 82% greater than the average crude refining in the US, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

After Boston Common Asset Management co-filed resolutions at BP and Shell in 2010, requesting public disclosure of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategies and risk mitigation systems, Lauren Compere of the Boston-based investment manager told, "They are not properly accounting for the externalities, particularly BP. We believe that BP should disclose to investors that they are making correct assumptions about future oil demands and carbon intensity."

In November, the State Department withdrew its support for construction of the pipeline, citing the encroachment of its planned route through environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region of Nebraska. Following the passage in December of the payroll tax cut extension, the State Department announced that it would not have time to complete an environmental review of the pipeline project by the February deadline. As a result, it is likely that Obama will not approve the project.

Requiring an environmental review of such a controversial project appears to be of little consequence to lobbyists for the oil and gas industry. Earlier this month, American Petroleum Institute (API) President Jack Gerard warned that the President would face "grave political consequences" if he does not approve the pipeline.

API's methods of encouraging "grave political consequences" for the President hew to a time-honored practice on Capitol Hill: money. According to MapLight, a research organization that analyzes the influence of money on politics, contributions from the oil and gas industry to members of the House of Representatives have totaled $12 million over the past two years.

MapLight's analysis further reveals that of the 118 House members who report the oil and gas industry among their top ten contributors, only two—Democrat Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Republican Charles Bass of New Hampshire—voted against HR 1938.

The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision opened the floodgates of political spending by corporations and trade associations in time for that year's mid-term elections. This year, for the first time, the controversial decision is likely to dramatically increase the influence of corporate money on a presidential election. And the influence of money from the fossil fuels industries could effectively mean the end of climate change mitigation.

James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, wrote in 2009, "The safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is no more than 350 parts per million (ppm)…Unfortunately, because of our fossil fuel use, our planet is already at 385 ppm."

"The horrendously carbon-intensive unconventional fossil fuels, tar shale in the US and tar sands in Canada, cannot be developed," Hansen continued. "The carbon emissions from tar shale and tar sands would initiate a continual unfolding of climate disasters over the course of this century."

During last month's COP17 climate change conference, Canada withdrew from the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol rather than face fines for its failure to meet its emissions targets. Primarily due to oil sands development, Canada's GHG emissions in 2007 were 26% higher than 1990 levels and 34% higher than the target it agreed to in the Protocol.


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