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.