Industry aims to put spotlight on energy in election year

WASHINGTON — The oil industry’s leading trade group is kicking off a campaign that aims to make energy a front-and-center issue in November’s elections.

American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard formally unveiled the effort during the group’s annual “State of American Energy” event on Tuesday.

“In exactly 10 months, our nation will be asked, once again, to decide who will represent us in Washington, D.C., and in state and local governments,” Gerard told about 200 energy analysts, lobbyists and politicians. “The collective decisions of the 2014 voters will shape whether and the extent to which our nation fulfills its potential as energy superpower.”

Gerard’s presentation comes as the oil industry faces big political and policy challenges on Capitol Hill and in federal agencies. Oil company lobbyists are pushing the Obama administration and Congress to ease a 39-year-old ban on exporting U.S. crude. Meanwhile, refiners are pushing Congress to spike a nine-year-old renewable fuel mandate.

The API also is pushing the Obama administration’s Interior Department to sell drilling leases in Atlantic waters off the East Coast and allow seismic studies in the region that could help them locate potential oil and gas under the seafloor. And, while it looks increasingly unlikely that Congress will overhaul the nation’s tax code this year, Gerard said his trade group is ready to combat moves to “punish” or penalize the oil industry for its economic success by stripping away existing tax deductions.

Another item on the API’s agenda this year: Seeking approval of TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil sands crude from Alberta to Cushing, Okla. en route to the Gulf Coast. Although TransCanada revised the pipeline’s route and reapplied for approval to build it in 2012, the company first asked the State Department for a permit five years ago.

Gerard quipped that deliberation over the pipeline has lasted longer than U.S. involvement in World War II and the space race.

Gerard told reporters API would be capitalizing on TV advertising, social media campaigns and targeted political spending to advance “pro-growth energy policies” in Washington.

“The energy policy choices we make today are among the most important and far reaching policy decisions we will make in the 21st century,” Gerard said. “We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to reshape, realign and reorder the world’s energy market and improve domestic prosperity to an unprecedented degree.”

Gerard stressed Tuesday that energy should be a non-partisan issue. But the API consistently has targeted its political spending toward Republicans. In 2012, its then newly formed political action committee doled $199,100 to federal candidates, with 79 percent of it going to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

So far, heading into the November midterm elections, the American Petroleum Institute PAC has contributed $76,000 to federal candidates, with all but 18 percent of it ending up in Republican hands.

Energy policy reporter Jennifer Dlouhy tweeted live from the event: