WASHINGTON — This year's fight over the Keystone XL pipeline has produced a lobbying gusher in the nation's capital.
At least two dozen companies and organizations have officially reported lobbying the federal government for or against approval of the pipeline.
The list includes oil companies, labor unions, environmental groups — even John Deere, a company best known for making tractors.
The number of organizations lobbying on the pipeline reflects how the Keystone project has become a battle royal involving a wide array of groups. It also shows the high stakes involved with the $7 billion project that would ship tar-sand oil from western Canada to oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The intense lobbying over the pipeline is the inevitable result of environmental groups elevating it into a national fight, said Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb.
"The frenzy of lobbying increases as there's more national attention," he said.
The company behind the pipeline, TransCanada, has ramped up its own federal lobbying to the highest level it has ever reported.
TransCanada spent $790,000 on federal lobbying just through the first half of 2011. The company spent $720,000 on lobbying all of last year, and $80,000 back in 2007, before it applied for the Keystone XL permit.
In fact, TransCanada spent less than $180,000 on federal lobbying during the time — a little more than two years — leading up to the granting of the permit for the initial Keystone pipeline in March 2008.
TransCanada spokesman Jeff Rauh said the spike reflects the intense debate over the project and the company's attempts to counter what he described as misinformation from opponents of the project.
"As interest in the project grows, clearly you have the responsibility to talk to a wider group of people," he said.
But some opponents of the pipeline are bemoaning TransCanada's increased lobbying, combined with the lobbying by major oil companies that spend millions each year to influence the government.
Jane Kleeb, a Nebraska opponent, pointed to TransCanada's recent hiring of widely known Nebraska lobbyist Walt Radcliffe to press its interests at the state level, where officials are mulling a special session to deal with the pipeline's route.
The federal lobbying reports show that large oil companies are doing everything they can to get their way with government officials, she said.
"This is your typical kind of Big Oil fight where Big Oil does the things they always do," Kleeb said.
Some have taken issue in particular with TransCanada's choice of lobbyists.
One of the company's primary lobbyists, Paul Elliott, was a top staffer on Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
As secretary of state, Clinton now is in charge of the permitting process for the pipeline because it crosses an international border.
Three advocacy groups — Friends of the Earth, the Center for International Environmental Law, and Corporate Ethics International — have gone to court in an effort to obtain correspondence between Elliott and government officials, suggesting that Elliott's campaign connections might lead to undue influence over the process.
Another lobbyist, Jeff Berman, works on behalf of TransCanada through the private firm Bryan Cave. Berman was the national delegate director for Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
Rauh rejected suggestions of any undue influence and said looking at lobbyists' ties to administration officials is a red herring.
He said Elliott was hired in fall 2008, well before the Keystone XL pipeline controversy, to provide expertise about New York municipal affairs when the company bought a power plant there.
Rauh also pointed to the unusually long review process for this pipeline — three years — which he described as being marked by extensive and highly technical analysis. The process has been based on detailed, scientific review and not lobbyist influence, he said.
Those lobbying the federal government must file quarterly disclosure reports that list the subjects they're focused on and the total amount they've spent on lobbying. The reports do not detail exactly how much of that total went to a particular matter, so it's impossible to say how much effort a major company such as Chevron put into the pipeline issue as opposed to its many other issues.
But Chevron did list the pipeline on its report in the 2011 second quarter, during which the company spent more than $2 million on lobbying overall.
Others lobbying in support of the pipeline include labor groups such as the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, which says it likes the thousands of jobs the project is projected to provide.
Environmental groups such as the National Wildlife Federation and the League of Conservation Voters have lobbied against it, saying it would increase the nation's reliance on fossil fuels and would threaten wildlife and wetlands. The league has spent $100,000 on lobbying this year, according to the reports.
Others, such as the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, have registered to lobby on the issue but are primarily monitoring developments and trying to ensure their interests aren't affected by it.
TransCanada says much of the increased spending on lobbying this year has involved flying the company's senior executives from their offices in Calgary or Houston to meetings in Nebraska or Washington. The spending also reflects the cost of paying for expert and legal analysis of matters involved with the pipeline.
And Keystone XL is not the company's only project. It's also in the preliminary stages of trying to get a pipeline in Alaska up and running and has other, varied business interests that involve lobbying.
One reason Keystone XL has gotten more citations on lobbying reports is that it was the subject of actual federal legislation.
Terry, the Nebraska congressman, wrote a bill requiring a decision on the pipeline by Nov. 1. The bill was approved by the House but is languishing in the Senate.
Several members of Nebraska's congressional delegation told The World-Herald they had not been inundated with materials or meeting requests from TransCanada or its lobbyists.
Terry said he declined an invitation to meet with TransCanada's CEO because he didn't want anyone to think he was TransCanada's guy. He said his support for the pipeline is motivated by a desire for energy independence, not allegiance to the company or its lobbyists.
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