The factions waging war over the Keystone XL pipeline are aiming a last-minute lobbying surge at a small group of Democrats likely to be pivotal in a U.S. Senate vote next week to force approval of the project.
They are buying ads and organizing phone calls and letter writing campaigns, with supporters urging Democrats to defy President Barack Obama by overriding his administration’s now- delayed review of the pipeline.
“It comes down to a half dozen votes that are the hot targets,” said Melinda Pierce, a Washington lobbyist with the Sierra Club, a San Francisco-based environmental group. “When it comes to bypassing the president’s authority, it’s not a place where we believe senators want to go.”
Critics, including the Sierra Club, say the $5.4 billion Canada-U.S. pipeline would worsen climate change. Supporters say it would create thousands of jobs and improve U.S. energy security. The U.S. State Department two weeks ago delayed its review of the project until a legal challenge to the route it would take through Nebraska is settled, something that could take months.
Six Democrats are being targeted because they’ve been on both sides of the issue. All six voted yes, along with Senate Republicans, on a non-binding resolution in support of Keystone last year. In 2012, they voted no on a binding resolution to circumvent Obama and give the Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. the go-ahead to build the pipeline.
They are: Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Tom Carper and Chris Coons of Delaware, Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Warner of Virginia.
Warner is a co-sponsor of a bill introduced May 1 by Senators Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, and John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, to force approval of Keystone.
The Consumer Energy Alliance, an industry group whose members include Exxon Mobil Corp. in Irving, Texas, is targeting online advertisements in the home states of Nelson, Carper and Coons, as well as Mark Udall of Colorado and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who are also both Democrats.
The group is encouraging visitors to its web page to sign letters supporting Keystone. “Your Senator could be the deciding vote in moving the U.S. closer to energy self sufficiency and away from dependence on overseas crude oil,” the letter states.
As of Friday, Keystone supporters appeared short of the 60 votes needed to advance the bill over a procedural hurdle.
Nelson, Carper and Coons aren’t among 10 Democrats who joined Landrieu as co-sponsors of her bill. Neither is Udall, though he has spoken favorably about the project. Spokesman Mike Saccone says Udall doesn’t support the effort to force Keystone approval.
Coons will vote against the bill, because he doesn’t believe it’s Congress’s role to intervene in a construction project, spokesman Ian Koski said in an interview.
Johnson of South Dakota has said he won’t support the bill. Nelson probably won’t either, said Ryan Brown, his spokesman.
Maggie Kao, a spokeswoman for the Sierra Club, said in an e-mail that the group was “engaged in online outreach, phone banking key senate swing votes, direct lobbying, grasstops lobbying, and district constituent pressure.” Grasstops lobbying refers to the practice of engaging with businesses and prominent members of a targeted community.
The American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group in Washington that represents major oil companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Chevron Corp., said it would run advertisements in support of Keystone. Sabrina Fang, a spokeswoman, didn’t provide details on the campaign.
“We need Congressional action since the president’s only action has been excuses and delays,” API chief executive officer Jack Gerard said in a statement.
Anthony Swift, an international attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the group was doing a blanket outreach to Senate offices emphasizing that there is no approved route through Nebraska for Keystone.
A state district court judge in February said the law giving the Governor Dave Heineman the authority to approve the project violated the state’s constitution, which gives the authority exclusively to the five-member Public Service Commission.
The Nebraska Supreme Court isn’t expected to rule on the state’s appeal of that decision until after the November midterm elections that will determine control of Congress. If it rules in favor of the Keystone opponents, the route will have to be submitted for approval to a state commission that has seven months to make a decision.
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