Keystone Pits Oil Companies Against Environmentalists

Coral Davenport
National Journal

It’s likely that more corporations, coalitions, and advocacy groups have lobbied, rallied, and written letters about the Keystone XL oil pipeline than about any other pipeline ever built in the United States.

Lobbying in favor of the controversial project are some of the most powerful energy, business, and labor interests in the nation: ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the AFL-CIO, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Steel Manufacturers Association—and, of course, the company overseeing the whole project, TransCanada. The American Petroleum Institute, which represents the oil industry, has made pushing for Keystone a central issue, keeping up a steady drumbeat of press events, reports, and studies supporting the pipeline.

Lobbying—and rallying—against the project are an impassioned group of environmentalists, spearheaded by Bill McKibben, a veteran environmental activist and founder of the climate-advocacy group

At first blush, it would seem the oil industry’s deep pockets easily outmatch the influence of green groups. But in August 2011, McKibben and thousands of protesters showed their clout by rallying against Keystone in front of the White House. Celebrities showed up for the rally, and demonstrators wrapped a giant pipeline around the White House. Many, including McKibben, were arrested. Their message to President Obama: If you approve the pipeline, you’ll lose our support in the 2012 election.

It appeared to work. Obama punted the decision until after the election. Since November, the environmental groups have kept up the pressure, bringing tens of thousands of protesters to another anti-Keystone rally in Washington in February. Now the question becomes: Without the pressure of an election, will Obama give his green base what they want, or will the power of the oil, steel, and business lobby prevail?