Kochs Won't Benefit From Keystone XL--But Warren Buffett Might

Obama supporter Warren Buffett had more to gain from the Keystone XL decision than the Koch brothers.

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The Democrats are taking a beating over President Barack Obama's decision to "red light" the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would transport oil from the Canadian tar sands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf coast.

According to some estimates, including one promulgated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy, the pipeline could, in the short term, lead to 20,000 new jobs at a time when they are sorely needed. Its construction would also help the nation become more energy secure.

To deflect from the political fallout, Democrats on Capitol Hill are trying to make the case that the pipeline would benefit Koch Industries, one of the world's largest privately-held companies and the left's principal bête noire.

[See a collection of political cartoons on energy policy.]

A story appearing Tuesday in Politico reported that Energy and Commerce ranking Democrat Rep. Henry Waxman and Energy and Power Subcommittee ranking Democrat Rep. Bobby Rush have asked committee Republicans "to request a Koch representative as part of their months-long probe into whether the company expects to profit mightily from the project."

"We make this request so that committee members can understand whether Koch is positioned to be a 'big winner' if the pipeline is approved, as some news accounts have reported," the piece quoted their letter as saying.

Attempting to create the impression that congressional Republicans are pushing the pipeline as a payoff to their corporate supporters may be good political theater but it's short on facts.

[Read Washington Whispers: Most Want Keystone Pipeline Built]

"Koch Industries has no financial stake in the Keystone pipeline and we are not party to its design or construction," Philip Ellender, president of Koch Companies Public Sector, said in a statement. "We are not a proposed shipper or customer of oil delivered by this pipeline. We have taken no position on the legislative proposal at issue before Congress and we are not cited in any way in that legislation."

That, however, is not the end of the story. If Waxman and Rush and their fellow Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee are interested in seeing if political favoritism has entered into the debate over the Keystone pipeline, they might want to talk to Warren Buffett, the Omaha-based billionaire who has been a strong supporter of President Barack Obama.

According to Bloomberg Business News by way of the San Francisco Chronicle, Buffett's Burlington Northern Santa Fe "is among U.S. and Canadian railroads that stand to benefit from the Obama administration's decision to reject TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL oil pipeline permit."

[Read Michael Lynch: Keystone XL's Rewards Outweigh Its Potential Risks]

"Whatever people bring to us, we're ready to haul," Krista York-Wooley, a spokeswoman for Burlington Northern, a unit of Buffett's Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc., said in an interview. If Keystone XL "doesn't happen, we're here to haul," the story quoted her as saying.

Did Buffett have anything to do with the Obama administration's decision not to go ahead with the pipeline, which critics alleged would have damaged an "environmentally sensitive region" of his home state of Nebraska? It's a fair question to ask since he would seem to benefit from the decision—certainly more than the Kochs would if the pipeline were allowed to go ahead. Unfortunately you can be almost certain that it's not a question that Waxman or Rush are going to ask.

  • Check out the U.S. News Energy Intelligence blog.
  • Read Mort Zuckerman on America's energy future.
  • Read the U.S. News debate: Is It Time to Drill in the Arctic Refuge?