John Kerry's expected cakewalk to the U.S. State Department has delighted American environmentalists due to his stance on climate change, but the longtime senator owns stock in two Canadian oil companies that have pushed for approval of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline.
Federal financial disclosure records show Kerry has investments of as much as US$750,000 in Suncor, a Calgary-based energy company whose CEO has urged the U.S. to greenlight TransCanada's controversial project.
The longtime Massachusetts senator, one of the wealthiest lawmakers on Capitol Hill with an estimated net worth of $193 million, also has as much as $31,000 invested in Cenovus Energy, another Calgary firm.
The lawmaker will likely have to divest of those holdings, or put them in blind trust if they aren't already, following an ongoing federal ethics review that is standard procedure for would-be U.S. cabinet secretaries.
But one environmentalist expressed disappointment on Thursday.
"Given what we know about the fossil fuel industry and their apparent desire to cook the planet, it's immoral to have investments in these companies," Daniel Kessler of 350.org, an organization that's started a fossil fuel divestment campaign, said Thursday.
"We look forward to Sen. Kerry as secretary of state given his commitment to climate issues, but he has to divest of these investments."
Kerry a 'strong leader on climate change'
Susan Casey-Lefkowitz of the National Resources Defense Council said she was confident Kerry would remain a staunch environmentalist as secretary of state, regardless of his past investments.
"Sen. Kerry has obviously been a strong leader on climate change and we don't think that's going to change as secretary of state," she said.
'Given what we know about the fossil fuel industry and their apparent desire to cook the planet, it's immoral to have investments in these companies.' —Daniel Kessler, 350.org
"I think we can have faith that he'll do whatever's needed to make sure he has no conflicts of interest on this issue."
Kerry and his wealthy wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry — the heir to the Heinz ketchup fortune — have a large collection of international investments. Some of them would clearly pose conflicts of interest for him as secretary of state.
"As is routine for any Senate-confirmed nominee, Sen. Kerry's financial disclosure form and ethics agreement will be released as part of the nomination and confirmation process," the White House said this week.
Kerry is expected to breeze through his U.S. Senate confirmation hearings next week to become America's next top diplomat, one whose devotion to environmental issues has been making proponents of Keystone XL nervous.
The legislator, after all, has long been one of the most fierce environmentalists on Capitol Hill, leading unsuccessful efforts three years ago to push greenhouse gas legislation through Congress.
State Department to decide fate of Keystone XL
In the coming weeks, the State Department will determine the fate of Keystone XL because it crosses an international border. The $7 billion project would carry bitumen extracted from Alberta's carbon-intensive oilsands to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Kerry has provided no clues about Keystone's prospects since being tapped by the Obama administration as Hillary Clinton's replacement at State.
"I've got confirmation hearings — you'll hear about it," Kerry told reporters recently on Capitol Hill when asked if Keystone would get the greenlight.
American environmentalists, however, aren't resting on their laurels waiting for Kerry's limousine to pull up to the State Department. A coalition of environmental groups released a pair of reports on Thursday suggesting Keystone's impact on the climate is much worse than previously believed.
The reports claim Keystone XL would play a critical role in tripling oilsands production by 2030, which in turn would result in far more greenhouse gas emissions than originally estimated.
One of Kerry's closest allies on climate issues in Congress — Rep. Henry Waxman of California— issued a stern statement on the findings.
"The new reports show that TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline is the key that will unlock the tarsands," he said.
"If the pipeline is approved, the world will face millions more tons of carbon pollution each year for decades to come. After Hurricane Sandy, devastating drought, unprecedented wildfires, and the warmest year on record in the United States, we know that climate change is happening now, we have to fight it now, and we must say no to this pollution pipeline now."
TransCanada was dismissive of the studies.
"This is the latest attempt by professional activists who oppose Keystone XL to change the discussion — there is nothing new," spokesman Shawn Howard said in a statement.
"The real issue is whether or not the proposed Keystone XL pipeline meets the regulatory standards to be granted a presidential permit for crossing an international border. In our view, it not only meets American standards, it exceeds them."
Saskatchewan premier urges pipeline approval
Pipeline proponents were also busy on Thursday.
Ten Republican governors and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall sent a joint letter to President Barack Obama urging him to approve the pipeline, calling it crucial for energy security and the future economic prosperity of both countries.
"We wanted to work together with our friends in the United States, with these governors, and put forward what we think is a very compelling case for the U.S. administration to approve Keystone," Wall told reporters in Regina.
"Just because all facts on all sides are heard doesn't mean we should stop trying to influence the decision."
Wall added he's "hopeful" Kerry, as secretary of state, would green-light the pipeline.
"We had a chance to meet recently…and we had an excellent discussion about energy and we talked about oil," Wall said.
"It's better for the United States, it's better for Canada, if North America has a greater energy independence. I think Sen. Kerry shares that."
TransCanada officials have put on a brave public face about Kerry, pointing to the recent all-clear Keystone received from Nebraska officials after they proposed an alternate route for the pipeline.
The new route skirts an ecologically fragile area of the state after Obama raised concerns about the pipeline's original path when he rejected TransCanada's application last year.
Kerry's confirmation hearings begin on Thursday with a Q&A session with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — of which he's the chairman. He's expected to easily win confirmation from the committee and, ultimately, the Democratic-controlled Senate.