REVOLVING DOOR GREASES THE WHEELS: Corporate PR Firm LS2Group With Deep Ties To The Branstad Administration Joins Energy Transfer Partners, Three State Agencies, For “Informal Meeting” On Bakken Oil Pipeline Proposal
Email communication between Transfer Energy Partners and Iowa Utilities Board shows state agency may have referred the Fortune 500 oil corporation to the notorious public relations firm for assistance navigating permitting process
A former lobbyist for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship who now works for a corporate public relations firm with significant ties to the Branstad Administration joined an oil corporation and three state agencies at an “informal meeting” on a proposed Iowa Bakken Oil Pipeline, records provided to Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement by the Iowa Utilities Board show.
Susan Fenton, LS2Group’s Director of Government Affairs, who worked for four years as a legislative liason for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, joined Energy Transfer Partners, the Iowa Utilities Board, the Attorney General’s office, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources on July 29 for an “informal meeting” on the proposed bakken oil pipeline “to discuss the informational meeting and permit petition processes and requirements,” meeting notes show.
Fenton has also worked for Iowa House Republicans, including the speaker of the house and majority leader, as well as on re-election campaigns for Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Senator Chuck Grassley.
Email records also indicate that the Iowa Utilities Board may have actually referred LS2Group to Transfer Energy Partners for assistance navigating the state’s permitting process. On July 11, Stephen Veatch, Senior Director of Certificates and Tariffs at Transfer Energy Partners, sent an email to Don Stursma, Manager, Safety and Engineering Section at the Iowa Utilities Board, which reads, “Don – can you provide me the firms that are familiar with the IUB permitting process that you would recommend?”
“What the Iowa Utilities Board calls an informal meeting we would call a classic case of the revolving door greasing the wheels,” said Ross Grooters, an Iowa CCI member from Pleasant Hill. “State agencies should be working to serve the public interest, not bending over backwards to help Big Oil.”
LS2Group is a corporate gun-for-hire whose senior leadership team includes vice president Jeff Boyeink, former chief of staff for Governor Branstad. Last April, LS2Group was contracted by the American Petroleum Institute and an API front group called the Iowa Energy Forum to bring General James Jones to Drake University campus to promote the Keystone XL pipeline. LS2Group also worked for Tim Pawlenty’s campaign during the 2012 Iowa Caucus season.
The proposed Iowa Bakken oil pipeline, if built, would transport crude, hydrofracked bakken oil from North Dakota through Iowa and eventually down into the Gulf of Mexico. Transfer Energy Partners, a Texas-based Fortune 500 company, says they can transport as much as 420,000 barrels per day, but that the project will probably average about 320,000 barrels of crude per day.
In July, the corporation sent letters to property owners along their preferred route cutting through 17 Iowa counties asking permission to survey land. The next step will be informational hearings in those counties, preceded by a 30-day notice, after which the Texas-based corporation may formally file a pipeline permit with the state, kicking off a public input process. Transfer Energy Partners told the Iowa Utilities Board they hope to formally apply for a permit by the fourth quarter of this year. The corporation cannot negotiate easements with landholders until after the 17 informational meetings are held.
According to Iowa Code 479B.8, to grant a permit the Iowa Utilities Board must determine that “the proposed services will promote the public convenience and necessity” and may impose “terms, conditions, and restrictions as to location and route.”
Iowa Utilities Board members are appointed by the Iowa governor, and the agency is part of the state’s executive branch. Iowa CCI members this week launched a petition and Facebook page calling on Governor Branstad to use his administration’s authority under Iowa Code 479B.8 to stop the pipeline from being built.
The petition reads: “Governor Branstad, the Iowa Bakken Oil Pipeline will be a climate disaster. Building it could harm Iowa’s water quality, contribute to catastrophic climate change, and threaten the property rights of everyday Iowans across the state. You must find that this pipeline is not in the public interest and reject it.”
Governor Branstad’s office has been briefed on the issue. Ben Hammes, Branstad’s Director of Boards and Commissions, sent an email in July to the Iowa Utilities Board asking for information on the proposal.
Iowa CCI members have been contacted by some property owners along the proposed oil pipeline route and copies of the letters sent to them by Dakota Access, LLC, a subsidiary of Transfer Energy Partners, is included in the document cache.
Iowa CCI is a statewide, grassroots people’s action group that uses community organizing to win public policy that puts communities before corporations and people before profits, politics, and polluters.