Idaho congressmen cut and pasted letters from pipeline giants


The controversial Keystone pipeline ruptured last week in Kansas, spilling more than 14,000 barrels – nearly 600,000 gallons – of crude oil onto multiple properties and turning a rural creek black. It is the largest spill in the history of the Keystone System and the largest oil spill in the United States since 2010.

The incident has left Canadian pipeline giant TC Energy Corporation scrambling to limit damage – not just in Kansas, but in other states where it is seeking to expand fossil fuel infrastructure.

But before the spill, TC Energy already had politicians in some of those states marching to the company’s pace, including two US senators. Internal emails reviewed by HuffPost show that TC Energy solicited and drafted a letter that Republican officials in Idaho submitted to federal regulators urging them to approve the company’s proposal to expand natural gas shipments in the Pacific Northwest.

Industry watchdog group Energy and Policy Institute obtained the documents through public records requests and shared them exclusively with HuffPost.

In late August, the attorneys general of California, Washington and Oregon filed a joint petition urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, to reject TC Energy’s proposed expansion of the Gas Transmission Northwest pipeline. They argued that the project, known as GTN XPress, would undermine state laws aimed at curbing global-warming fossil fuels and tackling climate change.

Unlike the Keystone Pipeline, which transports oil, the nearly 1,400-mile GTN Pipeline transports fractured gas from British Columbia through Idaho, Washington and Oregon, connecting to other pipeline infrastructure in TC Energy in Northern California. The GTN XPress project would allow TC Energy to modify three existing compressor stations and increase pipeline capacity by 150 cubic feet of gas per day. The construction could emit carbon pollution equivalent to adding more than 750,000 vehicles to the road every year for three decades.

The emails show TC Energy moved quickly to find a political ally to counter state opposition, ultimately pitting Idaho against its western neighbors.

A grain truck drives past a Keystone Pipeline pump station near Milford, Nebraska on January 9, 2020.

Ghost letters for elected officials are nothing new to TC Energy. As HuffPost reported in May, the company — formerly TransCanada Corporation — distributed model letters that the Republican mayors of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake submitted in support of the company’s natural gas infrastructure projects in Virginia.

On August 24, two days after California, Washington and Oregon filed their petition with FERC, Alex Oehler, director of TC Energy’s federal government relations team, contacted the Republican senator’s office. of Idaho Jim Risch to request a meeting. He and Ayla Neumeyer, Risch’s legislative aide, met in person on Capitol Hill the following week to discuss the project, the emails show, and a few weeks later Oehler sent what he described as “a draft text to consider for a delegation later”. [sic] at FERC.

In an Oct. 14 email to staffers of other Idaho elected officials, Neumeyer shared the draft letter and wrote that the company was “looking forward to having something to push back on Washington/Oregon on as soon as possible”.

“We told them we’d be open to weighing in, but thought it made more sense for us to do something together,” Neumeyer wrote. “We still need to get final clearance from [Sen. Risch] but I wanted to circulate a draft and see what the point was. Open to changes – the company took the first run, so we’ve left their footnotes for now for your review, but we’ll probably remove them when we actually send them.

The removal of footnotes was the only significant change made by Idaho officials. The letter they submitted to FERC on October 21 is almost a carbon copy of TC Energy’s project. Among other things, he notes that the project will “provide the necessary transmission service with minimal, if any, impacts on landowners or the environment.” And he dismissed the clean energy standards neighboring states of Idaho have adopted as “arbitrary.”

“Attempts to use the [National Gas Act] imposing individual policy preferences on other states would be a mistake and would clearly conflict with the real and observable need for additional pipeline capacity,” the letter states. “Given these legal considerations, the demonstration of clear market signals, and the need for reliable, low-cost power, FERC must move quickly through the approval process for the GTN Xpress project.”

The letter was signed by the entire Idaho-Sens congressional delegation. Risch (R) and Mike Crapo (R) and Representatives Mike Simpson (R) and Russ Fulcher (R) – as well as Idaho Governor Brad Little (R).

Marty Boughton, a spokesperson for Risch, told HuffPost that it’s “well within the norm” for industry representatives to write letters bearing the senator’s signature.

“Members of Congress regularly coordinate with outside groups and industry representatives on projects and legislative issues of common concern,” Boughton said via email. “As is customary in the drafting process, regardless of the author, the proposed text has been reviewed, edited and accepted by all signatories of the letter.”

Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) speaks with reporters in the Senate subway after a vote on Capitol Hill in February.
Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) speaks with reporters in the Senate subway after a vote on Capitol Hill in February.

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

No other members of the Idaho congressional delegation responded to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Emily Callihan, spokesperson for Little, did not respond to specific questions from HuffPost, but said via email that the governor “is proud to work with members of the Idaho congressional delegation and to other partners to support the expansion of the Gas Transmission Northwest Xpress project to make our energy infrastructure more secure in our region and lower energy costs for Idaho families and businesses.

The fossil fuel industry was one of the top 10 contributors to Risch, Crapo and Simpson during their careers, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.org. This year, TC Energy contributed $3,000 to Small and $1,000 in Risch. The company’s contributions to Little include a $2,000 donation made Aug. 31, around the time it was stepping up its lobbying of Idaho officials.

“Did you contact the governor’s office or anyone else in the delegation?” Neumeyer asked Oehler in a Sept. 20 email after Oehler sent TC Energy’s draft letter.

“We are still working on government and delegation. (We had some scheduling issues),” Oehler replied. “We informed the [attorney general]Nevertheless.”

Oehler emailed again the next day to inform Neumeyer that representatives of TC Energy had met with the governor’s chief of staff and other senior administration officials. “I was told they were open to considering weighing in with FERC,” Oehler wrote.

TC Energy did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Audrey Leonard, an attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper, a Hood River, Oregon-based nonprofit that opposes the GTN XPress project, was not surprised to learn of the lobbying and editorial efforts of letters from TC Energy behind the scenes in Idaho.

“It’s clear how desperate TC Energy is to move this project forward, and it’s even more important for our incumbent climate champions to step up and authentically oppose the expansion,” she said. declared.

Columbia Riverkeeper was among more than two dozen organizations, mostly in the Pacific Northwest, that sent a letter in October urging Democratic governors in Washington, Oregon and California to publicly oppose the project of TC Energy. The groups called the project ‘inconsistent with efforts by Washington, Oregon and California to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions’ and said the green light would lock the region in for another three decades. dependence on fossil fuels.

Leonard said she couldn’t ignore TC Energy’s decision register of misadventures, especially last week’s Keystone pipeline oil spill in Kansas. A report released last year by the US Government Accountability Office concluded that “Keystone’s accident history has been similar to that of other oil pipelines since 2010, but the severity of spills has worsened in recent years.”

The spill happened after TC Energy increased the throughput capacity of the Keystone pipeline, as they are asking to do here,” Leonard said. “Oil and gas pipeline infrastructure is different, but it shows that TC Energy cannot be trusted to build and maintain pipelines. The Keystone pipeline was built in 2011 and is much newer than the over 60 year old GTN pipeline.


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