U.S. Chamber Hits The Road To Promote "Oily" Highway Transportation Bill

A bitter fight has erupted in Washington, D.C. in recent weeks surrounding the fate of a much-needed transportation and infrastructure bill. Congressional Democrats wanted to pass a bill that would fund projects to help rebuild roads and bridges, but Republicans were against the idea.

So, in an attempt to get something more tangible out of the legislation, Congressional Republicans loaded the bill down with dozens of handouts to the oil industry, including immediate approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and expanded access to U.S. lands for oil exploration. The amendments would also take national gas tax money away from public transportation projects, and reduce the amount of federal contributions to public employee pensions – two actions that will have devastating effects on middle class America. And with the fight bringing the discussion on the legislation to a halt, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce took it upon themselves to hit the road and sell the bill to the American public.

From the U.S. Chamber:

The business group will be hosting breakfasts, lunches and policy roundtables with local chambers and business associations this week in 12 different cities in Ohio, Idaho, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana.

Janet Kavinoky, the Chamber’s executive director of transportation and infrastructure, will be on the road trip, along with Alex Herrgott, one of the business group’s transportation lobbyists.

“The idea is to get out, give people a good sense what the bill is and get them talking to their members of Congress and have them get the bill done,” Kavinoky said. “We want Congress to feel like it needs to come back to Washington and get the bill done and put it to bed.”

To be fair, the U.S. Chamber in the past has been a strong supporter of increased infrastructure spending and rebuilding. They even joined forces with the AFL-CIO in recent years to help push Congress to improve our crumbling roads and bridges.

But the current amount of money and effort behind the push for the current transportation bill is unprecedented, which is not surprising considering how the Chamber’s own members would benefit from the bill in its current form. And when you consider the fact that most of the real infrastructure and transit projects have been cut, the intentions of the Chamber become more and more clear.

Salon lays out what the bill would actually accomplish:

When the GOP announced its transportation bill last month, Capitol HIll jaws dropped. The $260 billion five-year plan would, for the first time, tie transit funding to a bevy of new oil and gas projects. One would open up the long-preserved Arctic National Wildlife Refugee. Another would offer up millions of acres of public lands to shale drilling. Still another would open nearly all the nation’s coastline, including the recently oil-soaked Gulf of Mexico, and mandate a host of new offshore drilling operations.

You’ve almost got to admire the sheer audacity of House Republicans: This was supposed to be a transportation bill, not a bonanza for the oil industry.

The actual transit elements are equally aggressive. Pedestrian and bike programs would be shut down; Safe Routes to School, which does exactly what it sounds like, would be eliminated. And to free up money for highway expansion and bridge repair (which the bulk of the $260 billion is allotted for), the bill would sever the funding mechanism for public transit. For 30 years, one-fifth of the cash flow from the federal gas tax has gone to transit, and this bill would boot it out of the Highway Trust Fund altogether, forcing it to compete for financing with all other programs.

Additionally, the Chamber’s own financial support for members of Congress seems to run contradictory to their push for infrastructure investment. As Bill Scher wrote at The Huffington Post a few months back:

No outside group spent more to help Republicans take over than Congress than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, dropping $31 million funneled from undisclosed donors on ads that attacked supporters of economic stimulus for spending recklessly and failing to create jobs.

Funny thing about that is: a major supporter of President Obama's stimulus law was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But instead of backing lawmakers who helped the member companies of the Chamber from suffering a full-blown Great Depression, the Chamber decided to punish them because many also backed reform of health care and Wall Street.

The Chamber's 2010 political investment paid off. It got the right-wing anti-government Congress it paid for, putting at risk implementation of the President's signature reform efforts.

The Chamber spent $86 million to try to kill health reform. What's stopping the Chamber from taking its own support for infrastructure investment just as seriously?

Apparently, the way to get the Chamber to get serious about an issue is to do what Congressional Republicans did with the transportation bill, and load it down with completely unrelated and unnecessary giveaways to the oil industry.

The U.S. Chamber has an impressive history of fighting for the oil industry. In November of last year, they filed an amicus brief on behalf of Shell oil, in response to a lawsuit brought by environmental groups attempting to challenge Shell’s recently-awarded contracts for offshore drilling exploration.

The Chamber also ran TV ads during the same time period attacking Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown for voting against increased offshore oil drilling.

But even more than the oil projects tied to the bill, the Chamber is aggressively pushing for the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Citing the same debunked talking points as Republican politicos, the Chamber tells us that the pipeline will create jobs, lower energy costs, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

So the big question is what does the Chamber stand to gain from increased oil drilling? The answer is simple – Money. Among the known Chamber members (and heavy hitters in the political and financial fields) are Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, and Conoco Phillips. U.S. Chamber Watch details the connections these companies have to the Chamber:

Exxon Mobil: Exxon Mobil was represented on the board of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), according to the ILR’s 2009 IRS Form990.

Royal Dutch Shell: Among other connections, in 2010, the U.S. Chamber filed an amicus brief defending Shell in a multi-million dollar punitive damages case.

BP: BP is a member of the Chamber and the Chamber lobbied on its behalf after the company’s devastating April 2010 oil spill.

Chevron: Chevron is a member and a donor to the U.S. Chamber. Chevron gave the Chamber an amount of $250,000 in both 2008 and 2009.

ConocoPhillips: Conoco Phillips is represented on the Chamber’s board.

The Chamber has consistently fought for these companies, even when winning for their oil buddies means losing for their other members. The Chamber actively fought against a bill in Congress that would have provided capital for small businesses because it would have repealed the federal subsidies for Big Oil.

They have also fought for increased oil drilling in protected lands – the same items that the current transportation bill would finally allow.

The Chamber’s current “road show” for the transportation bill is identical to one launched this same time last year in support of expanded oil drilling in the United States. The only difference is that this trip is billed as the promotion of infrastructure, not Big Oil handouts. But their agenda remains the same.


And this just in, kids, Clinton has now come out in favour of Keystone!!


So with Romney supporting unethical oil from Canada, and now Clinton, and a few other Democrats, this has basically painted Obama into a corner. All that hopey changey thing has gone out the window. Obama will now practically have to approve Keystone, albeit with an alternative route, in order to avoid being marginalized in the upcoming election.

Remember when we used to believe Democrats and Republicans each stood for different values and ideas? Those days seem so quaint now. Everyone, from all political stripes, seems to be following the death march of progress.

Yes, it is sad that the political environment is such that even Obama feels he has to offer some leniency on the fossil fuel industry to get some good things going.

The House bill is not a done deal - so, if there’s enough of a ruckus, the oil giveaways can (and should) be separated from the surface transportation bill. There was news today the the Republican House leadership acknowledged that it needs a lot of changes and the Democrats have signalled that, as written, it is a dead letter.

Keep the pressure on to do a transportation bill that sticks to transportation. Then, we can have a debate about energy and get into all the ANWR, off-shore, shale-oil, wind, solar, bio-fuel, micro-hydro, geothermal, tidal, and other energy issues.

I can’t wait to read what Joe Romm will write about Keystone if it gets approved, haha! He will literally ‘crap his drawers’ as my old Lacross coach used to say. A definite “Head Exploding” moment for sure. ;)

we need more unpaved roadways designed for horses and buggies.

Or coaches, whatever.

Too much of an extremist position has been taken on the Keystone pipeline. “Game over for the climate” for example”

It will eventually get approved because the economics dictate it because North America consumes fossil fuels. The area to go after is the demand side of the equation, no demand no oil use. Punitive taxes, strict government control over home heating and transportation options are the key. Mandatory bus usage and development controls on housing. There is no reason for people to live in single familly homes anymore.

“There is no reason for people to live in single familly homes anymore.”

It would be a lot less inflamatory to establish insulation standards that existing homes muct meet within a defined timescale, and to ban future ribbon developments that make car use essential.

Going after individual consumer demand won’t even begin to put a dent in the problem since industry, transportation and agriculture make up the vast majority of fossil fuel use. The whole techno-inustrial infrastructure needs to be examined.


You are correct.  More energy is used to transport firnished products than is used for human transportation.  Ag uses a tremendous amount of fuel, just feeding people uses a tremendous amount of fuel.

At this time, there are no alternatives  to the internal combustion engine to allow the growing/transportation/stocking of foods.  The same applies to industrial uses.

Most of the transportation bill involves transportation issues.  A supply of Fossil Fuel is one of those issues.  President Obama made a huge error in not conditionally approving the Keystone XL.

All the hype that it will raise the cost of fuels in the USA by its approval is backwards economics.  The Keystone will reduce the rate of rise of fuel costs because it allows a multi trillion barrel oil reserve to be used.

There are no alternatives at this time if you want everything to be the same. That’s why I said the whole industrial/civilizational infrastructure needs to be examined, and questioned.

Alternatives to the internal combustion engine already exist: solar, wind, hydrogen fuel cells, algae cells, nuclear fusion, etc. Re: food… Some food is already grown organically, and locally. There just needs to be a way of doing more of this. One way is via vertical farming using existing skyscapers, which could even be gutted to remove plumbing, power, air conditioning and heating dependencies. Another is allowing people to grow their own food on rooftops or wherever there is space, and let livestock roam freely. Permaculture, and the inclusion of insects into Western diets would also go a long way. Or a combination of all of these and other ways.

We have to start thinking outside the box, not: ‘how can we replace one fuel source with another’.

Keystone is unessessary, puts ecosystems, aquifers and public property at risk, contributes to climate change vis-a-vis tar sands development, and maintains dependency on fossil fuels thus retarding development of alternatives.

Although we are heavily subsidizing all of those industries to keep doing what they do, the way they do it.

Go to a farm.. they sell the ‘purple fuel’ for a song.

Sometimes I think about Japan and their gang problems.  How their organized crime syndacits have infiltrated their government with sleeper agents, and it seems frightening and disturbing until I think about the U.S. and realize–the only difference is in Japan they are gangs, and in the U.S. they are corporations.

I agree, GE etc have infiltrated most handsomely.  The subsidy they recieve to build wind turbines, fighter jet engines, etc is money not wisely used.

I appoligize for this somewhat o/t commnet but - This is a must see.


Harper’s response to Canadian’s concerns