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Congress members owning TransCanada stock push to approve Keystone XL

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Four members of Congress who have disclosed owning shares in Transcanada, the company trying to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, have pressed for the $7 billion project's approval. 

The State Department took the lead in the approval process, and was supposed to rule last November on the project, which has been the subject of an intensive international lobbying campaign as well as a contentious split among supporters of President Barack Obama, who chose to delay a decision on authorizing construction until at least 2013. 

While labor unions and energy companies support the project, environmentalists have objected to its construction because the oil that would be transported, from tar sands, is dirtier than other sources of crude. Republican presidential candidates have criticized the delay and promoted the pipeline as a way to create jobs, as have many members of Congress. Some did so while holding stock in the company.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, reported in his 2010 financial disclosure form--the most recent available, filed on May 15, 2011--that he owned Transcanada stock worth between $115,002 and $300,000 (financial disclosure forms ask members to report their assets within broad ranges).  In 2010, while the State Department was conducting its assessment for the Environmental and National Interest Determination, part of the approval process, McCaul joined other members in signing a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to push forward the Keystone XL pipeline. The signatories urged Clinton to "approve the cross border permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and move forward with the project in a timely manner.” The letter does not mention that any of the signatories have a personal financial stake in the decision. 

McCaul’s office insists that Rep. McCaul is unaware of the stocks in his portfolio. Mike Rosen, McCaul’s communications director stated, “Congressman McCaul does not, and has not during his tenure in Congress, personally traded or instructed anyone to trade any security on his behalf, and he has no involvement or knowledge of specific investment decisions made with regard to securities listed in his annual personal financial disclosure.”

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., reported owning between $15,001 and $51,000 in TransCanada stock in his 2010 financial disclosure; according to his office, the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee sold his stock on January 5, 2011. Cochran has advocated for the pipeline even after his stock was sold. Last week, he issued a press release supporting the extension to the Keystone pipeline. Now Cochran is trying to pressure the administration into approving the Keystone extension. Cochran is a co-sponsor of the aptly named, "A bill to require the Secretary of State to act on a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline." Chris Gallegos, Cochran's spokesman, said there is no potential conflict of interest between Cochran’s stock and his actions to promote the Keystone XL, insisting that “all investments are handled by an outside firm.”

Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., has held Trans Canada stock since 2004; her most recent disclsosure shows she owns a stake in the company worth between $1,001 and $15,000. She has been actively tweeting in defense of the Keystone XL pipeline; on November 10, she lamented, “WH caves to anti-American energy lobby, delays job-creating Keystone XL Oil Pipeline.” She did not mention her investment in 140 characters or less.

In October of this year, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., signed on to a letter to President Obama expressing support for the Keystone XL pipeline, sent after the State Department’s initial approval, when the President had the most power in the permitting process. Again, the letter stated the benefits of job growth but did not mention that any of the signatories petitioning Obama had a financial stake in the company. In McCarthy’s most recent disclosure, she reported a $798 interest in Trans Canada.

It isn’t just Congress members that own TransCanada stock, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan E. Rice filed that she owned between $250,001 and $500,000 of TransCanada stock. This is just a piece of her impressive stock portfolio. She was not a part of the State Department's approval process.