Last Friday, after applauding the House's vote  to rush a decision on TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a new campaign to boost the controversial project. The Partnership to Fuel America  is run out of the U.S. Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy , and seems positioned to be the U.S. Chamber's main influence channel to drum up support for Keystone XL. Supportive comments aside, it's also the first time the U.S. Chamber has so publicly and overtly aligned with the Canadian company's project.
The launch comes at a pivotal moment for Keystone XL. The Obama administration has the final say in approving the pipeline, and they've said the decision will be made by the end of the year. The new House legislation declared that the Obama administration must make the call by November 1st. A final environmental review of the prospective project is expected from the State Department in August. (To learn more about how tar sands pipelines like Keystone XL are a much greater risk than normal crude pipelines, see my earlier post .)
Which is all to say: the next couple months will determine whether or not Keystone XL is approved and built. Given the U.S. Chamber's long history of support for all things fossil fuel -- and long history of fighting against any sort of pollution controls -- it's no real surprise that the Chamber is throwing its considerable weight behind Keystone XL. But until now, the nation's largest lobbying group (which spends more money than the next five lobbying groups combined , and which receives the majority of its funding from 16 anonymous corporate donors) hadn't done more than release comments in support of the Keystone XL project. (Well, publicly, that is. They've probably done quite a bit behind closed doors.)
So what more do we know about the Partnership to Fuel America ? According to the U.S. Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy, it will be "comprised of American businesses and industries that understand the need for more energy in the United States and believe that Canada's significant resources can help achieve that goal." Their site makes numerous references to "North American energy," but the only North American sources of energy listed are Canada's tar sands, and every news item listed on the site is specifically about the Keystone XL project.
Though you won't find him anywhere on the official site, the "partnership" is being led by a gentleman named Matt Koch , who is vice president for Oil Sands and Arctic Issues at the U.S. Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy. And, no, I couldn't find any evidence that this is some long-lost Koch brother of the Koch Industries clan, but lately he's been earning his living off of fossil fuels just the same.
Before working for private industry, Matt Koch served in George W. Bush's White House, as an Associate Director of Cabinet Affairs, and also in the Department of Energy. Before settling into the capital, Koch served as Natural Resource Policy Director at the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations, securing the Lone Star State's oil interests inside the Beltway.
Immediately before joining the U.S. Chamber's payroll, Koch was Director of Federal Relations at the American Petroleum Institute, and one of their chief lobbyists. According to the Institute for 21st Century Energy, Koch was  "API's chief advocate and issue manager for all downstream and refining-related issues affecting the oil and natural gas industry."
What's more, he was "responsible for initiating and managing API's ongoing, multifaceted oil sands strategy and campaign." Now he's running that very same strategy for the U.S. Chamber, and the big tar sands battle of the moment is the Keystone XL.
It's worth noting that this Partnership to Fuel America launch -- the overt and very public alignment between the U.S. Chamber and TransCanada's Keystone project -- comes at the very moment that both the Chamber and the Keystone XL are being acutely targeted by various activist campaigns. 350.org  just launched the clever and timely "U.S. Chamber of Secrets " website as part of their ongoing campaign  to expose the organization as a front group for fossil fuel corporations and other big polluters. (Check out their impressive infographic about the Chamber , which tells a pretty startling story.)
Meanwhile, a whole slew of activists are gearing up for the Tar Sands Action  in late August, which is specifically targeting the Keystone XL pipeline, which organizers describe as  "a fifteen hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent."
But, now, there's no need to speculate about a possible link between the U.S. Chamber and the Keystone XL project. That connection is now public and crystal clear. So it must be asked: why is the U.S. Chamber spending so much energy and resources supporting a project that will be built, operated, and profitted from by a Canadian company, one the U.S. Chamber isn't supposed to represent? Perhaps that answer lies in those other, more renowned Kochs, who stand to make a killing off of Keystone XL  if it's completed, and who are known to have shady ties to the U.S. Chamber .