Written by Brendan DeMelle, crossposted from DeSmogBlog.
Hillary Clinton and the State Department have the final word on whether to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, unless President Obama intervenes. The influence of tar sands industry lobbyists connected to Hillary Clinton is finally getting some media attention, but there is still more to this story.
Clinton's State Department is finally complying with a FOIA request for documents, after a lawsuit filed in May by three watchdog groups over an alleged lack of transparency regarding contacts with TransCanada lobbyist Paul Elliott, a former staffer on Hillary Clinton's presidential run. Elliott has earned at least $310,000 as TransCanada Pipelines’ in-house lobbyist to influence Congress and several federal agencies, including the State Department, on the Keystone XL pipeline.
However, the tar sands industry’s use of former Clinton associates to lobby on the controversial project extends beyond Mr. Elliott. DeSmogBlog has uncovered seven other influencers or lobbyists with ties to Clinton and Obama who have lobbied on behalf of tar sands interests for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.
These lobbyists are spread out over three firms, including one that was the largest single source of funds of any corporate entity to Clinton’s 2008 presidential run. Included in their midst is a lobbyist with close ties to top Obama adviser David Plouffe, and a former Koch Industries operative now lobbying for the Koch-friendly Keystone XLproject.
The presence of so many former Clinton associates on the lobbying roster for polluter clients on a high-profile controversy suggests a clash with the repeated campaign pledges of greater transparency and tougher dealings with lobbyists by Secretary Clinton’s boss, President Obama.
“This is somebody who’s been in Congress for twenty-six years, who put seven of the most powerful Washington lobbyists in charge of his campaign, and now he tells us that he’s the one who will take on the ol' boy network,”Obama said before a crowd in Elko, Nev. "The ol’ boy network? In the McCain campaign, that’s called a staff meeting," Obama said.
TransCanada Corp's permit request for the Keystone XL network of long-distance pipes represents a clear test of those pledges of transparency and a less cozy relationship with corporate lobbyists. The proposed pipeline would shuttle what is described as the dirtiest oil on the planet – Canada’s tar sands crude – to petroleum refineries on the Gulf Coast. Ultimately, much of the oil will be shipped overseas to foreign markets, undermining claims that this project would boost U.S. energy security.
Below is a description of the influence peddling firms and lobbyists that DeSmogBlog has identified as having close connections to Hillary Clinton and President Obama that are working to convince the State Department to approve Keystone XL.
McKenna Long & Aldridge lobbies for Nexen Inc., a company with present growth strategies that include “oil sands, including our 65% operated interest in the Long Lake project.” Nexen has paid McKenna over $1.8 million since 2007 in lobbying fees. Talisman, another major energy company in Canada, has paid McKenna $90,000 over the last two years for lobbying.
Frank McKenna, the first-named principle of McKenna Long & Aldridge, served as Canadian ambassador to the U.S. from 2005-6. [Correction: Frank McKenna has no affiliation with McKenna Long & Aldridge. I regret the error.]
Gordon Giffin, a partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge, served as U.S. Ambassador to Canada during the Clinton administration (1997 to 2001), and was a key fundraiser and donor to Hillary Clinton’s Senate and White House campaigns. Giffin was one of 22 “Bundlers for Hillary Clinton who have registered as Federal Lobbyists” cataloged by Public Citizen. He’s also been a donor to Bill Clinton’s campaigns and the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation. Giffin sits on the boards of four Canadian companies, including Canadian Natural Resources Limited, a major tar sands player.
Maryscott “Scotty” Greenwood, another McKenna lobbyist, was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as Chief of Staff to Gordon Giffin when he was U.S. ambassador to Canada. Considered by The Hill Times as one of the “Top 100 Most Influential People in Government and Politics in 2010,” Greenwood is valued by McKenna for her ability to reach Secretary Clinton on the phone, according to a biography on the firm's principal Frank McKenna: “Because of her up attitude and the jobs she has held, [Scotty Greenwood] can get through on the phone to virtually anyone of influence within the US Democratic ranks, including the likes of U.S. secretary of the state Hillary Clinton.”
Greenwood was a member of the important Credentials Committee at the 2008 Democratic Convention - the committee appointed by Chairman Howard Dean that was responsible for deciding how to handle Hillary Clinton's delegate challenges. She was also the Executive Director of the Georgia Democratic Party, where she met Giffin.
Indeed, one of the emails obtained by FOE et al in their FOIA request shows Scotty Greenwood emailing news that "Sen Lugar calls for approval of KXL" to Gordon Giffin, Paul Elliott, Marja Verloop and an ExxonMobil lobbyist. (See pg 137 of this PDF)
David Pollak joined McKenna as a “Senior Strategic Advisor” in August 2009. Pollack served as Co-Chairman of the New York State Democratic Party from 2006 – 2008, and was a Hillary Clinton Super-Delegate.
In May 2010, McKenna Long & Aldridge hired Alex McGee, who previously worked for Koch Industries as the Director of Federal Affairs for Koch Companies Public Sector (KCPS). Prior to that, he spent five years as the Department of Energy's (DOE) Principal Deputy Assistant
Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs. McGee’s bio claims he was “a strategic player in the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.” McGee now lobbies on behalf of TransCanada.
The web of tar sands lobbyist cronies with ties to Hillary Clinton pressuring the State Department to approve Keystone XL shows that President Obama must take personal responsibility for the transparency and objectivity of this permit decision. It appears that Secretary Clinton is too compromised by this web of polluter influence peddlers from her past to say no to Keystone XL.
Saying no to this filthy tar sands pipeline is the only viable option for President Obama, who campaigned not only on a platform of strong climate action and ending our oil addiction, but also for transparency and minimizing the role of corporate lobbyists in policy decisions.
Right now, the State Department’s capitulation to lobbyists – and secrecy about Secretary Clinton’s contacts with lobbyists – stinks to high heaven, as the recently released emails demonstrate. Hopefully this amended FOIA request will compel the State Department to reveal all the facts about lobbyist influence over Hillary Clinton’s position on Keystone XL.
DeSmogBlog's Emma Pullman contributed research to this report.
** Clarification added to note that Earthjustice, which represents the environmental groups, filed the amended FOIA today on their behalf.
Happy Chernobyl Day. It was 25 years ago today Soviet engineers were conducting a systems test on that nuclear reactor when a sudden power surge led to a series of explosions, a fire and the worst nuclear reactor disaster in history… so far. The ongoing disaster in Fukushima, Japan may be worse by the time that situation is under control.
How are you celebrating Chernobyl Day? The folks in Texas City, Texas are celebrating by staying indoors and sealing their windows and door with duct tape. It’s called “shelter in place” and it’s not really a Chernobyl Day commemoration, it’s the citizens only defense against noxious fumes emanating from three refineries and a vinyl acetate facility that have experienced a power loss. Power loss, the same thing that kicked off the Fukushima disaster.
The three Texas City refineries are owned by Valero, Marathon and BP. The BP refinery is the most famous of the three, due to an explosion in 2005 that killed 15 workers and injured 180 others. The federal Occupation Safety and Health Administration found BP had ignored safeguards prior to that explosion. BP is trying to sell that refinery. So far, no takers.
According to wire reports, area residents report noxious fumes in the air, making breathing difficult. The refineries’ flares are still burning, so it’s unclear why people are choking. Other gaseous emissions may be occurring. Later reports say the power outage was caused not by the local utility, but by problems inside the industrial facilities.
We at Greenpeace have witnessed many industrial accidents. One sad feature of them all is that the industry in question always gives out incomplete or misleading information on day one. There always seems to be more concern for controlling the PR than for protecting the health of people who live nearby. There are 550,000 people who live in the “vulnerability zone” around the BP refinery. These are the folks who’ve been told to duct tape themselves into their homes.
The weather report says it’s 80 degrees and hazy in Texas City. Of course, you have to shut off your air conditioner when you “shelter in place.” What would you do if you lived there? Tape the windows, swelter, turn on the radio, pray? Or grab the kids and run for the car, risk being overcome by fumes, just try to get out of there? Where would you go? These are not gated communities of McMansions. People who live near refineries don’t have much money.
Dow Chemical owns the vinyl acetate facility. The plant was part of Union Carbide, which Dow purchased in 2001. In 1984, a Union Carbide facility in India leaked methyl isocyanate. The “vulnerability zone” around that plant had a half million poor people living in it, too. Twenty thousand of them died; another 150,000 were severely injured.
According to the material safety data sheet for vinyl acetate, it is immediately threatening to the eyes, skin and lungs and cancer-causing in the longer term.
We at Greenpeace have been working for a nearly a decade – since before the 9/11 attacks – to convert America’s industrial facilities from the use of hazardous feedstocks to available safer alternatives, ones that don’t require huge amounts of poison gasses in the communities where we live and raise out children.
In 2004, then-Congressman Jim Turner (D), who represented a nearby area, called such plants “pre-positioned toxic weapons of mass destruction.” Unfortunately, a decade of efforts by legislators like Mr. Turner has run into a wall of pre-positioned lobbyists from the chemical industry and the politicians whose campaigns they finance.
Our nation was attacked by terrorists and no measures were taken to protect us from distinct hazards nestled among a half million people. Our economy crashed and no effort was made to recoup the thieved billions or regulate our financial markets. Three reactors and four spent fuel pools in Japan have been in crisis for weeks and our government does nothing to examine the 23 similar reactors in this country.
You get what you pay for, except this isn’t the government you paid for. It’s the one the polluters paid for.
In a move that exposes the repeated and predictable habit of Congressional polluter allies, House Republicans have ignored a $53 billion handout over the next 25 years to oil companies that are not required to pay royalties when obtaining leases for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. This year alone, according to House Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), $1.5 billion in absent lease royalties will benefit oil companies seeking to expand offshore drilling.
The leases, which give oil giants access to public property for their own profit, is another slap in the face to taxpayers who have already watched their land (and for many, their fragile livelihoods) become poisoned by industry abuse and maintained by federal incompetence. As fiscal conservatives in the U.S. House selectively look for government spending to trim, the main targets seem to be social programs instead of unncecessary billions doled out to the world's largest oil companies. As Congress scratches the back of Big Oil, fresh reports emerge of continued devestation on the ocean floor of the Gulf of Mexico, a direct result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Noting the twisted irony, Rep. Markey stated, "Republicans once again sided with BP, Exxon and the oil companies, not with the American taxpayer and the poorest Americans most in need of help. This legislation focuses on just the kind of special interest loophole that should be closed before we open attacks on programs for the poorest Americans.”
This failure to save wasted taxpayer money is but a small portion of the sickening annual handouts to the oil industry through subsidies. Oil Change International explains, "Estimates of the value of US federal subsidies to the domestic oil and gas industry alone (not coal) range from 'only' $4 billion a year, to an amazing $52 billion annually. Coal subsidies are roughly another 10 billion annually."
The tar sands of northern Alberta, Canada can be seen from space. Photo credit.
DeSmogBlog's Emma Pullman recently took a look at how Valero Energy's investments in the devastating tar sands of Alberta, Canada motivated their funding of Proposition 23.
Tar sands mining has been credited as the largest industrial project on the planet, and comes with extreme costs to the region's people, forests, waterways, animal species, and the broader specter of global warming. If you missed it, National Geographic published a great piece on the controversies of tar sand operations.
As noted by DeSmog, Valero faces declining oil sources from Mexico and a shifty political scene in Venezuela, turning to the tar sands craze in Canada to secure more access to oil. The rapid development of tar sands extraction has helped secure Canada as the United States' top supplier of oil--we import almost twice as much oil from Canada as from Saudi Arabia, and half of Canada's oil is sourced from tar sands mining.
As the refining of bitumen from tar sands mines creates particularly dirty fuel, Valero and the other oil companies crawling around northern Alberta aren't happy to see California's Global Warming Solutions Act survive Proposition 23. Pullman notes:
As tar sands oil has a much larger carbon footprint than conventional oil, climate change legislation targeted by Prop 23 would limit California's imports of high-carbon fuels -- fuels that would likely include toxic tar sands oil from Alberta. Valero's Texas refineries may be halfway across the United States, but industry worries about the 'domino effect' of climate change legislative efforts and how they may be adopted elsewhere.
Making good his promise to visit Charles Koch, Cal State LA Senior Joel Francis flew to Wichita, Kansas to the headquarters of Koch Industries and personally delivered a letter re-challenging the oil CEO to a public debate on the future of California's economy.
Of particular concern for Francis is the $1 million that Koch funneled to support Proposition 23, the ballot measure to undermine California's greenhouse gas reduction targets and clean energy implementation. The role of wholly-owned Koch subsidiary Flint Hills in funding Prop 23, as well as Texas refiners Valero and Tesoro, has tuned California voters in to the reality of what the ballot measure truly exists to do: protect the profits of fossil fools and prevent a rapidly growing clean energy sector from ever being able to compete with dirty energy providers.
Francis certainly caught the CEO's attention with his initial challenge, as security guards and a Koch representative were ready to meet Francis once he arrived at the corporate campus.
Francis was promised--on camera--that his letter would be delivered to Charles Koch, but has not received a response, even under the condition that Charles himself could set the terms and location of the debate. Apparently Charles doesn't feel the need to have any public accountability as he continues to work behind the scenes, pulling the strings of the tea party to upend the political system in favor of private corporate profit at the expense of human health, economic diversification and ecological integrity.
There has been a lot of confusion about how Prop 23 relates to jobs, as the oil industry has cultivated fears of job loss through some questionable studies. The Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, which is funded by the likes of Art Pope and the Koch brothers, has crafted a report designed to create hysteria among economically-wary Californians (read: most Californians), claiming formidable implications on jobs and state economic output.
The funny thing, and by funny I mean dishonest, is that this report conveniently avoids looking at the economic benefits of the climate law that Prop 23 would cripple. It also fails to mention that by the end of the decade, Proposition 23 will make California electricity cost 33% more. And it also doesn't note that the report's author has worked for the Cato Institute, which Charles Koch founded and David Koch remains a Board member, and the Manhattan Institute, yet another think tank funded by the likes of Koch Industries and ExxonMobil. For a deeper look, check out what Rebecca Lefton has to say about the Pacific Research Institute's selective look at California's climate law.
Fiorina has also come out in support of Proposition 23, which would freeze the state's legal power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and implement clean energy until the state's unemployment rate drops drastically and remains so for a full year. Such low and prolonged unemployment has only been seen three times in the last 40 years.
Be sure to also check out the video footage of Greenpeace (and a few other protestors) at the National Republican Senatorial Committee Headquarters last week, asking Fiorina if she will stop accepting campaign donations from major polluters.
The New York Times editorial "The Brothers Koch and AB 32" takes on efforts by oil billionaires Charles and David Koch to block California's signature climate law by pouring money into Proposition 23:
Four years ago, bipartisan majorities in the California Legislature approved a landmark clean energy bill that many hoped would serve as a template for a national effort to reduce dependence on foreign oil and mitigate the threat of climate change.
Now a well-financed coalition of right-wing ideologues, out-of-state oil and gas companies and climate-change skeptics is seeking to effectively kill that law with an initiative on the November state ballot. The money men include Charles and David Koch, the Kansas oil and gas billionaires who have played a prominent role in financing the Tea Party movement.
Flint Hills, a wholly-owned subsidiary of oil giant Koch Industries based in Kansas, has joined with Texas oil companies Valero and Tesoro in trying to block California's landmark climate legislation by funding the campaign to pass Proposition 23. As the second largest private company in the US, Koch Industries has plenty of money to pour into this fight.
In fact, the $1 million from the oil billionaires is only one tentacle of the oily Kochtopus. As we detailed in our report "Koch Industries: Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine," oil billionaires David and Charles Koch have become kingpins of climate denial, funneling tens of millions of dollars to front groups and think tanks that oppose climate and clean energy policies. In recent years, they have even surpassed ExxonMobil in contributions to climate denial organizations.
The Kochs are also directly funding political candidates who will support their agenda — including California senate candidate Carly Fiorina, who supports Proposition 23. KochPAC gave her $5,000 earlier this year, and is even co-hosting a fundraiser for her in Washington DC to give thousands more.
The fight over clean energy and climate policy in California is dripping with out-of-state oil money because the oil billionaires want to stamp out the progress that has been made to move toward clean energy and energy efficiency, and keep us addicted to their fossil fuels. That's how they became oil billionaires, after all. The NYT editorial concludes:
Who wins if this law is repudiated? The Koch brothers, maybe, but the biggest winners will be the Chinese, who are already moving briskly ahead in the clean technology race. And the losers? The people of California, surely. But the biggest loser will be the planet.
Despite obtaining over $4 million from Valero, $1.5 million from Tesoro and $1 million from Koch Industries subsidiary Flint Hills Resources, the president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association sent out a plea, literally, for more money to undermine California's legislative effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions and implement more clean energy.
In an email to members of the NPRA, president Charles Drevna wrote, "I am pleading with each of you—for our nation's best interest and for your company's own self-interest."
Valero Energy and Koch Industries subsidiary Flint Hills, neither of which are based in California, have invested millions in the industry attempt to suspend California's Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32). Texas-based Tesoro Corporation, another oil refiner, is also heavily invested in the fight.
As dirty energy influence peddlars are pulling the usual economic apocalypse arguments, a recently-released assessment concluded that not following California's plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions and implement clean energy would be the worse economic option.
Passing Proposition 23 would simply leave California more polluted and less prosperous, while oil executives and lobbyists would continue to rejoice at their personal profit at the expense of a healthy planet and healthy people.
PolluterWatch is a project of Greenpeace that holds polluters accountable for the work they’re doing to block the transition from the dirty fossil fuels of the past to the clean energy sources of the future.
The science is clear: We must take immediate action to avert the worst effects of global warming. But polluters, their lobbyists, and the politicians who work with them are holding the climate debate hostage and poisoning the debate about policies that would lower our greenhouse gas emissions and kickstart a clean energy revolution. Help us hold the polluters accountable. Get in touch today and find out how you can help. Learn More