By Dustin Hurst | Watchdog.org
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The League of Conservation Voters is a very confused political advocacy organization.
At the top of the liberal environmental group’s structure, LCV opposes construction of the Keystone XL, a 1,700-mile pipeline slated to run from Alberta, Canada, to oil refineries deep in Texas. The group says the line’s route, altered several times through the federal permitting process to ease environmentalist concerns, would proceed through ecologically sensitive terrain.
Then there’s the oil issue. LCV says America needs to move beyond fossil fuel-based energy supplies, toward sustainable projects.
Nevertheless, a Watchdog,org investigation reveals an inconvenient truth: This election season, LCV is spending stacks of green to prop up one of Keystone’s biggest backers in the U.S. Senate.
In Montana’s tightly contested U.S. Senate race, LCV is throwing big money behind incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, serving his first term. Inconveniently for the group, Tester has supported Keystone on the Senate floor several times, ostensibly for the 1,200 jobs the Montana AFL-CIO says it would bring to Montana.
LCV is bringing in big money to beat back Tester’s Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg. The Sunlight Foundation, an online campaign finance tracking group, estimates LCV spending at $1.1 million with about two months until Election Day.
Of that amount, $730,000 has gone to pro-Tester expenses, while the other $415,000 funded anti-Rehberg attack ads and door-to-door foot soldiers.
Even more confusing, the group’s fundraising arm, bringing in cash on behalf of Democrats like Tester, is also working to raise money for Elizabeth Warren, the Democrat’s candidate for a Massachusetts Senate seat. Warren is a leading voice opposing the Keystone.
Tester remains a key to maintaining the Democrats’ hold on the Senate. But some LCV supporters aren’t thrilled their group supports pro-Keystone Democrats.
After a swanky fundraiser at a posh eatery in Charlotte, just steps from the Democratic National Convention, LCV backers said it’s wrong for Democrats to support the Keystone project.
Ken Bookstein, a physician from Portland, Ore., told Watchdog.org Wednesday that no Democrats should support Keystone, despite the jobs.
“I disagree with anyone who would support the Keystone XL pipeline,” Bookstein said. “There’s no defense for building such a pipeline.”
The doctor took it a step further.
“We need to make oil more difficult to use, not less,” he explained. “I think gas should be more expensive.”
Bookstein figures driving up the price of goods usually drives down usage. He said America must end its addiction to oil and fossil fuels and move to greener, more sustainable energy sources.
The economic arguments in favor of pipeline construction are solid, too. A union labor agreement predicts the project will generate at least 13,000 jobs. TransCanada Corp., the company hoping to build Keystone, says the line would generate more than $6.5 billion in new economic income for Americans.
Yet, the nation’s 8.3 percent unemployment rate doesn’t sway LCV supporters.
“We don’t need temporary jobs that are just for construction,” said Shelly Cohen, a renewable project expert and LCV support from Washington, D.C. “Once the pipeline is done, those jobs are gone.”
Instead of relying on old technologies, Cohen said technology and innovation will move the country toward cleaner energy.
Not many LCV supporters would openly slam pro-Keystone Democrats like Tester directly, but one expressed a deep sense of disappointment in the first-term senator.
“They see the possibility of jobs, but I just don’t think that’s a good reason to build it,” DNC delegate Anne Earheart from California said of Keystone-backing Democrats. “He (Tester) certainly doesn’t vote how I would wish him to vote on that issue.”
Senate Democrats supporting a pro-Keystone amendment to a transportation bill in March included Max Baucus of Montana, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jim Webb of Virginia, among others.
A more seasoned political veteran, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, gives Tester and the others a pass on the issue.
“I’m not going to get up here and question the motives of my colleagues,” Ellison told Watchdog.org. “All I’ll say is that we can be friends and colleagues and have different points of view on the subject.”
Ellison steadfastly opposes the project, arguing like most other LCV supports that the country needs to make key investments in green technology. Sure, he says, he would like to see the jobs come to the country, but he’s not entirely sure they’d be worth the ecological cost.
“Spills are part of a pipeline,” Ellison said. “You’re going to have that.”
Contact Dustin Hurst at firstname.lastname@example.org.