US Chamber, oil-and-gas lobby go grassroots in Keystone pipeline battle

Feeling comfortable after a recent, favorable State Department draft review of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, business groups are focusing efforts on the local level to solidify support for the project.

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For the American Petroleum Institute (API), that means leaning on its union partners. It will help coordinate rallies across the Midwest that could aggravate a key tension point in President Obama’s base between labor and greens, which stand on opposite sides of the Keystone fight.

“I don’t think that puts the president in a bind. The building and construction trades are the president’s base,” Marty Durbin, executive vice president with API, told The Hill. “I think that’s one of the problems. It’s almost that people think there’s equal weight here. And there isn’t.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will arm its extensive network of local chapters with material to beat back “misinformation” from Keystone opponents, Matt Letourneau, a spokesman with the Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy, told The Hill.

To be sure, the business groups said they would keep charging ahead at the national level.

API and the Chamber noted they’ve run national advertising campaigns and that future ones remain a possibility. The National Association of Manufacturers said it would continue to press the Obama administration and Congress on the issue.

Those groups feel momentum is on their side, especially after the draft State Department review dismissed arguments by greens that Keystone would accelerate oil sands production and devastate the climate.

“I think we’ve really reached a point where sort of the pro side has won mainstream opinion on this. I think you’re even starting to see some of the commentators on the left point out this might not be the fight the environmentalists want to fight,” Letourneau said.

Durbin and Letourneau suggested public opinion was on their side, and that it would embolden Obama to approve the Canada-to-Texas pipeline.

The opposing views of green groups and some unions means Obama’s eventual Keystone ruling will displease a significant portion of his base.

Green groups have portrayed the upcoming decision as Obama’s defining moment on climate. They plan to challenge the State Department’s draft review through the 45-day comment period.

Many unions, though, want the project to go forward because it could provide construction and manufacturing jobs for their members.

Durbin said the union rallies API is helping organize, as well as upcoming local radio ads unions plan to buy, would enhance labor’s visibility on Keystone.

With industry, some unions and a majority of Congress in the pro-Keystone camp, the Chamber is making the case that scrapping Keystone would amount to succumbing to “fringe groups.”

"For the business community, the Keystone XL pipeline has become a bellwether indicator of whether America will be open for business during President Obama's second term or not. If the pipeline permit is denied, it will send a strong signal to the private sector to put their money elsewhere,” Karen Harbert, president and chief executive of the Chamber’s Energy Institute, told The Hill in a statement.

The Chamber will continue to mobilize local chapters through emails, social media and the Partnership to Fuel America, a campaign centered around businesses along Keystone’s proposed route.

Letourneau said local members and affiliated organizations would make their opinions known through letter-writing campaigns, newspaper submissions and public events.

“You’re going to continue to see that drumbeat,” Letourneau said.