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Lopsided lobbying on Keystone Pipeline

The oil and gas groups that want the Keystone XL Pipeline built lobbied significantly harder for the project than the environmentalists fighting against it. But the pressure and passion is so intense on both sides that the lopsided lobbying hasn’t been enough to move the needle.

The Obama administration continues to punt the ultimate decision of whether to allow construction of the crude oil pipeline crossing the U.S.-Canadian border, yet the sectors lobbying in support of it keep on pushing.

The Sunlight Foundation looked at the lobbying disclosure reports that mentioned “Keystone” since 2008. Oil and gas companies filed four times as many as environmental groups:

So does that mean lobbying efforts are meaningless in this era of the do-nothing Congress? Or are some issues just so huge that they transcend the powers of PowerPoint presentations and finger-food receptions?

“This is an issue with a huge public conversation, an issue in which there are pressures on both sides, so often when public opinion gets involved and issues becomes more salient results are not very predictable,” said Lee Drutman, who co-authored the Sunlight analysis. “When you have a fight, often what you get is inaction — politicians operate by the rule of trying to upset as few people as possible. The easiest way not to upset anyone is not to make any decisions.”

Sounds like the Washington we know.

But maybe the groups are starting to get the feeling that lobbying isn’t the most effective route. In 2011 and 2012, the oil and gas industry dramatically increased its lobbying efforts on the Keystone issue. But in 2013, they’ve dropped significantly:

Though the final decision on the Keystone Pipeline has been six years in the making, the proponents seem to have made some inroads with the public and Democrats on the Hill. You may recall that the Senate passed a symbolic amendment instructing the White House to build it with 17 Democratic votes last year. And a Pew Research report last month found that Americans across the political spectrum overwhelmingly support it:


So what does this lobbying snapshot mean?

“I think it’s another example in which you see that there is a conversation about an issue and it looks like there is two sides, but when you look at who is hiring lobbyists and actively working the issue on the Hill every day it’s very one-sided,” Drutman said.

But to the environmentalists’ credit, the thing hasn’t been approved.

Colby Itkowitz is the lead anchor of the Inspired Life blog. She previously covered the quirks of national politics and the federal government.

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