A fight over reopening a pipeline to carry gasoline from Gulf Coast refineries to West Texas has spilled over to Washington, with pricey, well-connected lobbyists signing up to do battle.
At issue is a proposal announced in 1995 by Longhorn Partners Pipeline, a partnership of Exxon, BP Amoco and other oil interests, to acquire a crude oil pipeline, extend it and use it to move gasoline and other refined fuels to El Paso in West Texas, where gasoline prices have been high, and then on to New Mexico and Arizona. Some landowners and the city of Austin, concerned about the pipeline's route through heavily populated areas and near an ecologically fragile water system, sued to stop the pipeline project, saying it needed to be regulated and analyzed by federal agencies.
The federal judge in the case found that no federal agency was responsible for regulating the oil pipeline and ordered the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation to prepare an analysis. Longhorn agreed to pay for an environmental assessment by an independent consultant hired by the government.
The draft assessment has come in with a "no adverse impact" finding as long as Longhorn agrees to a list of mitigating actions, as it has done. Public hearings have been held along the route, and the public comment period closed last week.
Longhorn lobbyists and representatives say the pipeline company has been trying to do the right thing and work with federal agencies to produce a safe and environmentally sound pipeline. But not so far behind the opposition to the project, they say, is Navajo Refining, a company that sells gasoline and diesel fuels in West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
"There are places in the world where doing well and doing good are the same," said Abbe Lowell, a lawyer at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, who's on the Longhorn team.
Lowell is widely known for defending politicians in trouble and for serving as chief minority investigative counsel for the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton. But he has also worked for Greenpeace and other environmental groups.
Also working on behalf of Longhorn: Thomas C. Jensen, of Troutman Sander and former associate director of natural resources at the White House Council on Environmental Quality; William Demarest Jr., a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon and former counsel to the House subcommittee on energy and power in the late 1970s; Mark Irion and Jocelyn Hong, of the Dutko Group and both former Hill aides; and Peter Mirijanian of the DCS Group, the public affairs affiliate of Dutko.
Austin's Washington team--both sides have used Texas lobbyists and consultants as well--includes the lobbying and law powerhouses of Patton Boggs and Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand. The Patton Boggs team includes David Robinson, a partner specializing in pipelines; Parker Brugge, a former EPA official; Benjamin Ginsberg, a Republican election lawyer; and others. The Verner team includes former Texas governor Ann Richards and Jane Hickie, formerly executive director of the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations.
Navajo is circumspect about who, if anyone, is lobbying on its behalf.
"We've consulted with people on various matters," said W. John Glancy, general counsel of Holly Corp., Navajo's parent company, adding that the company has helped people "to speak out."
Glancy said the Longhorn project as proposed would "shortcut the rules," allowing Navajo's competitor to save money and put Navajo at a disadvantage.
Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said he never saw the bills, but "early in the process there were two or three entities that contributed to the payment" of Patton Boggs because "there was a community of interest." He said he believes Navajo was one of the contributors. The city hasn't used any Washington lobbyists "in quite some time," he said.
The Texas delegation has clearly been in the sights of the lobbyists. But Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D), who represents Austin, said he didn't need any lobbyists to help him form an opinion against Longhorn. "It's an issue that has mobilized thousands of my constituents. That's enough to get my attention," he said yesterday.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D), whose district includes El Paso, said, "I'm 100 percent supportive of the lobbying efforts and 100 percent supportive of the pipeline."
The aide of another member of the delegation, however, said the lobbying of all parties "is getting to the point of becoming almost unmanageable."
Longhorn says it didn't have a choice in the matter. "We were the defendants," said Jensen. Besides defending itself, Longhorn has since sued Navajo on antitrust grounds.
The EPA is expected to have a final environmental assessment within the next couple of months. What happens then is any lobbyist's guess.
Peter Halperin has left the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and joined GPC/O'Neill & Associates, a public affairs and strategic communications firm, as managing vice president of the Washington office. He will provide strategic counsel in government relations, focusing on international trade and transportation.
At OPIC, Halpin was managing director for congressional and intergovernmental affairs.
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