Four strange details about Keystone XL pipeline debate

A scarecrow stands guard to prevent birds from landing on an oilsands tailings pond.

A scarecrow stands guard to prevent birds from landing on an oilsands tailings pond near Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Here are four unusual details about the debate surrounding TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline proposal:

1) The Nebraska state senator who introduced a pro-pipeline bill remembers names of energy companies, but forgot the name of an environmental group he met with during a trip to Alberta’s oilsands.

In an August interview with the Toronto Star, Smith described his bill, LB 1161, as a balanced piece of legislation that was drafted after listening to concerns from all parties.

In the interview, Smith said he recalled speaking to representatives from TransCanada as well as officials from energy company, Devon, during a trip to Alberta’s oilsands. But when asked if he recalled meeting with environmental and sustainable development research group, the Pembina Institute, on the last day of that trip, he said:

“You threw out a name, there, I do not recall the name,” Smith said. “It sounds right, but the final day, we did meet for a round table discussion with the environmental interests from the area.”

You can listen to the entire interview below:


Smith is the state chairman from Nebraska of the American Legislative Exchange Council – an educational charity also known as ALEC. It connects corporate representatives with U.S. politicians on committees that develop model policy and legislation and estimates it can contribute to up to 1,000 model resolutions or bills introduced in state legislatures every year.

Records obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy revealed that the trip to Alberta – described as an “Oil Sands Academy” for politicians – was organized by ALEC.

The Obama administration delayed its decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline because of “uncertainty” surrounding a court challenge to LB 1161.

2) A TransCanada employee was listed as a member of an ALEC committee.

Beth Jensen, a government and community relations director of Alberta-based TransCanada, was listed as a member of an ALEC committee of industry representatives and elected officials in 2010. The committee discussed property rights legislation, including a model bill to allow states to use powers of eminent domain — the power of a government to expropriate property for public use — to takeover federal land, according to internal documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, which is a Wisconsin-based watchdog group.

A spokesman for TransCanada, Shawn Howard, said the company wasn’t involved in drafting the resolutions, adding that Jensen retired in July after a 40-year career.

He also said he couldn’t “speak to every meeting (Jensen) attended,” explaining that she met regularly with community leaders and others in the U.S. Midwest to inform people of the company’s activities and to identify issues that would need to be addressed.

During her employment with TransCanada, Jensen co-founded a non-profit group called Nebraskans for Jobs and Energy Independence that promotes the TransCanada project. She was also listed as a vice-president of this group in 2011, according to forms obtained by Bold Nebraska.

When asked about Jensen’s role, TransCanada declined to confirm she was on the ALEC committee.

“No one I’ve asked believes she was but since she’s retired I haven’t been able to ask her so I can’t confirm one way or the other,” said Howard.

After being sent a copy of an ALEC committee list featuring Jensen’s name, Howard added:

“When it comes to Beth’s activities, her role put her on the road quite a bit and she attended many events with legislators, elected officials, community leaders, opinion leaders and others that senior management would not have been aware of,” he said. “We have over 5,000 employees and about 40 per cent of them are in the U.S., so it wouldn’t be reasonable to assume that our senior management would know about all the meetings someone participated in.”

TransCanada has sponsored “ice cream social” events at the last two annual conventions of ALEC.

3) A lobby group representing large oil and gas companies spent $40,000 on an “educational session” to teach U.S. politicians about the Keystone XL pipeline.

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry lobby group whose membership list includes TransCanada Pipelines among other energy companies, is an active member of ALEC, spending $10,000 per year in fees, which includes participation and voting rights on the energy, environment and agriculture committee. Spokeswoman Sabrina Fang said that the institute also spent about $40,000 for an educational session on the Keystone XL pipeline for ALEC members.

“We have supported building KXL since the beginning and we will continue to advocate for the pipeline because it will create thousands of new American jobs and enhance our energy and national security,” Fang said.

4) A tobacco company says it didn’t sponsor a pro-pipeline resolution

An internal ALEC document, released through freedom of information legislation, tracking proposals in U.S. state legislatures, showed that the council was monitoring four different resolutions in support of the Keystone XL pipeline this year. Nick Surgey, the research director for the Center for Media and Democracy, said there were also 10 resolutions introduced in state legislatures in 2013.

According to the minutes obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, the model resolution itself was introduced in 2011 at two separate committees of ALEC focusing on natural resources and international relations. In the case of the latter, the name of tobacco giant, Philip Morris International, was listed on the meeting’s agenda below the Keystone XL resolution. Minutes from the meetings of both committees show that private sector members and elected members adopted the resolution unanimously.

A spokeswoman for ALEC, Molly Fuhs, said the agenda that listed Philip Morris International below the resolution was incorrect and was changed prior to the meeting. Philip Morris International also said it didn’t sponsor the motion.

Under ALEC’s procedural rules, Fuhs said that the tobacco company’s representative was not eligible vote on the Keystone XL pipeline issue. She declined to explain what those rules were.

Pam Roach, a Republican state senator from Washington, listed as a sponsor on the minutes, didn’t respond to a request for comment.


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