Competing Interests & Access to Politics: Studying the Keystone XL Pipeline

     One of the greatest debates in America today is about natural resources and energy development. The central question of my research is why President Obama’s support for the Keystone XL pipeline has shifted in recent years due to political pressure from Congress and the states. Iron triangles of private interests and lobbyists, politicians, and the government bodies on both sides—environmentalists versus advocates of oil and development—compete to exert control over the political process. The politics of energy development is a salient issue in US politics not only because of its economic, environmental, and geopolitical ramifications but also because it provides a case study of how competing interests work to change Presidential stances on issues via legislatures on both the national and state level. The project design for this research is comparative and investigative, as the final decisions and execution of US policy on the pipeline is still evolving through the election season and the course of the 2012-2013 Fellowship Program.

     Key US lobbyists for each side include the American Petroleum Institute advocating for the pipeline with an aggressive media campaign and the Natural Resources Defense Council advocating against development actively compete for access to the political processes in Congress. TransCanada, the owner and operator of the pipeline, has also made significant Congressional and executive branch inroads with the hiring of Paul Elliot, the national deputy director of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential run and the passage of the North-American Made Energy Security Act in the House of Representatives. The Sierra Club and the League of Conservation voters actively oppose any Congressional or Presidential action and want the President’s shift on the pipeline—from supporting it to delaying the project—to continue. This case study is an important example of how interest groups compete to gain access to American policy in order to push forward their initiatives as well as a look into how the United States Federal Government views energy and environmental concerns.

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4 Responses to Competing Interests & Access to Politics: Studying the Keystone XL Pipeline

  1. mattgenova1 says:

    The Keystone XL Pipeline is a fascinating case study for the larger energy debate in the United States, and though the development of the Canadian tar sands may not be “game over” for climate change as James Hansen has said, I think it is an important issue because it is clearly indicative of the direction in which US energy policy as a whole is heading. I think we’ll probably both run into a lot of the same political issues in working on our papers (I’m looking at US energy policy issues and how they relate to environmental concerns as well), so it’ll be awesome to talk to you more about what you find in your research when we all head to DC later this fall. Good luck!

  2. Sydni Franks says:

    I’m currently taking a senior seminar titled The Politics of Oil, and your project sounds like it would fit right in. The class is internationally-focused, but we actually just started a semester-long case study project to compare the largest oil producers and consumers in the world. Although we probably won’t be working too closely on our Fellowship research projects since mine isn’t particularly concerned with petroleum or U.S. energy policy, I’d still love to chat at the Fall conference about what you\’re finding!

  3. alexognibene says:

    Cool topic! I’m a Presidential Fellow from Toronto, Canada. Obama’s rejection of the Keystone reverberated North of the 49th parallel. Although it seems quite obvious that Obama (or Romney) will approve the pipeline after the November election, the administration’s pipeline maneuvering has strained U.S.-Canada relations. With the U.S. experiencing an energy crisis of sorts, and leading a boycott against Iranian oil, it was surprising that Obama would reject “friendly” oil from the North. The decision has created new impetus for Canada to send its oil across the Pacific to China (a U.S. rival), with potentially far-reaching geopolitical consequences over the long-term. I agree that the environmental record of the oil sands isn’t spectacular, but rejecting keystone would be a major strategic blunder for the U.S.
    – A Canadian perspective.

  4. pntindall says:


    I’m sorry for my belated thanks on your comments! I really appreciate the insight you gave me months ago as I go forward in the final stages of this project! Thank you!


    P N Tindall

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