How Canada Blew Lobbying on Keystone XL

By Kennedy Maize

Washington, D.C., April 17, 2013 – One of my oldest friends in the energy business is Jerry Halvorsen, now semi-retired and spending as much time as he can fishing in Wisconsin. But Jerry, who lobbied for nuclear, coal, and gas pipeline interests during his long career (and was a Democrat among a shark-filled sea of Republicans) keeps an eye on what’s going on in Washington. He recently sent me this email, which I am reprinting with his permission, because I share his views and value his insight.

“I have been dismayed for months over the strategy being followed on the efforts to gain approval in Washington for the Keystone Pipeline.

“Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is, I believe, in jeopardy because of a flawed strategy from the beginning by the project`s developers and supporters.

“The optimum strategy for any controversial energy project is to be low-key, non-controversial and to have bipartisan support from political leaders in Washington.

“In contrast, the developers of the Keystone XL pipeline agreed to let the Republicans lead a very public advocacy for the project and in essence let the Republican presidential candidate as well as Republican leaders in the House and Senate use the project as a club to beat both the Obama administration and Democratic leaders in the Congress over the head publicly for months for being anti-jobs and anti-energy development.

“This strategy clearly demonstrates that Canadian energy companies have learned nothing from past mistakes. There is 20 years of history that was ignored on the Keystone XL pipeline. In the early 1990s, Canadian pipelines and producers made aggressive and very public proposals to move large quantities of natural gas into fast-growing markets in California and the Northeast. The most public of those projects was the Iroquois pipeline to move natural gas from Eastern Canada into the Northeast United States.

“Producers in the United States launched an aggressive campaign to block the project on the basis that the natural gas could be supplied by producers in the United States and domestic jobs would be lost if the project was approved. The state of New York vowed to block the project because of its possible violation of state environmental laws. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held public hearings on the project and legislation was developed to block Iroquois from being completed.

“It was only through an active effort by a bipartisan group of senators from the Northeast and a looming natural gas shortage in the region that this legislation was averted and the pipeline was completed, but only after a long and costly delay and fines from the state of New York for violating state water quality laws. A pipeline construction crew was even jailed in New York as they attempted a stream crossing.

“If approval for [Keystone] is rejected, the developers and advocates will only have themselves and their political advisors to blame for following a strategy that is polarizing and not consensus building at a time when nothing gets approved  in Washington unless it has bipartisan support from the start.”