Activists Are Pouring Millions Into the Keystone Debate While Other Pipelines Go Unnoticed

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The somewhat symbolic fight over Keystone has become a booming business as the groups pour millions into lobbying firms and advertising. Meanwhile, Canada is finding other ways to get its crude oil into America. 

As Politico reports on Thursday, Keystone XL may never pump any oil, but it's become a major sector of the Washington influence economy. Lobbyists said the five-year fight over Keystone may be the biggest yet between energy and the environment, even when compared to the decades-long fight over Arctic drilling.

For example, the pro-pipeline American Petroleum Institute spent more than $50,000 this week on radio ads in states with competitive Senate races. Overall it's spent $22 million on lobbying efforts related to Keystone. TransCanada's team has spent $6.7 million lobbying for Keystone. (Both TransCanada and the Government of Canada sponsored Playbook for seven days last month.) The environmentalist side has less money to spend, but its costs are still in the millions.

And all of this is occurring while both sides admit that Keystone won't create that many jobs and, as a single pipeline, won't bring about the climate change end times. The battle is symbolic, over whether America will invest more in fossil fuels or renewable energy. In that sense, the environmentalists are losing. As The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, the price of Canadian oil has risen by 60 percent since November, implying that Canada has found other ways to get crude oil into the country. In January a pipeline opened linking Oklahoma to refineries in Texas and Louisiana, reducing the bottleneck keeping crude oil away from refineries. 

Meanwhile, the argument Keystone supporters make — the oil will get here anyway by rail, so why fight it? — is also panning out. California doubled the volume of crude oil it received by rail during the first quarter of this year. Maybe some of those advertising dollars would be better spent elsewhere. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.