John Kerry

State DepartmentWill John Kerry be swayed by former colleagues who are now pushing the Keystone pipeline?

The fight over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is getting personal — or should that be personnel?

Pipeline company TransCanada and the Canadian province of Alberta have been hiring lobbyists and consultants who previously worked with Secretary of State John Kerry, hoping they’ll help convince him that Keystone XL deserves a thumbs-up.

After the State Department finishes environmental and other reviews of the pipeline plan, Kerry will make a recommendation to President Obama about whether it should be approved. Obama will then make the final call.

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From The Boston Globe:

In mid-March, about six weeks after Kerry was confirmed as secretary of state, the province of Alberta hired new consultants — some with ties to Kerry — to help them ensure the project wins approval.

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They enlisted Boston-based communications and strategy firm Rasky Baerlein to “reach out and engage the US administration and key Senate and congressional committees,” according to federal records. Among those registered to lobby for the firm are Graham Shalgian, who worked on Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign; and Joe Baerlein, who has known Kerry for decades. …

The Alberta government also hired the well-connected Washington firm Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti to lobby US officials. David Castagnetti, a principal at the firm, is a longtime Kerry supporter who was the chief liaison to Congress during Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.

The Financial Times reports that TransCanada and Alberta have also hired “companies staffed by former aides to President Barack Obama or to Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state.”

TransCanada has already been under fire for hiring Paul Elliott, a key member of Mrs Clinton’s campaign team during her presidential run in 2008, as its chief lobbyist.

TransCanada is also poised to rehire SKD Knickerbocker, the communications company run by Anita Dunn, a former Obama adviser who worked for Mr Kerry in the late 1980s.

From Politico:

[E]nvironmental groups say they are particularly appalled by the lobbyists’ connections to Kerry.

“The most effective, tried-and-true method to sway policy decision makers is to put their former staff, advisors and/or colleagues on your payroll,” Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, told POLITICO in an email. He added, “It is money and influence-peddling that, more often than not, sets energy policy, rather than merits, science or national interest.”

But green groups are playing the game too. From The Washington Post:

Four [former Obama aides] — Bill Burton, Stephanie Cutter, Jim Papa and Paul Tewes — work as consultants for opponents of the [Keystone] project ….

Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president for government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, said her group hired Burton, the former White House deputy press secretary, to highlight problems posed by Keystone XL.

Still, the playing field is far from level. Keystone opponents have nowhere near as big a lobbying and PR budget as Keystone pushers.

And it’s still too early to tell whether environmentalists’ insider trump card — Joe Biden — is an ace or a joker.