The Associated Industries of Florida logo (Pic via saintpetersblog.com)

Associated Industries of Florida, one of the state’s most influential lobbying groups, submitted 16,024 public comments from Florida residents to the U.S. Department of State yesterday, all of which are in support of the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline expansion, a hotly contested network of pipes that would route crude oil from Canada all the way to Texas.

The comments were gathered in collaboration with a group called the Consumer Energy Alliance, a so-called “grassroots” organization with ties to top lobbyists. The Department of State must issue the final necessary permit to allow the Keystone XL project to proceed.

The influence of lobbyists on the Keystone project has been controversial lately, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who heads the state department, has proved a key figure in the controversy. The tar sands industry has used at least seven former Clinton associates to lobby on behalf of the Keystone XL pipeline system — a 1,700-mile network of pipes that would transport synthetic crude oil from northeastern Canada to refineries along the Gulf Coast in Texas.

Environmentalists and several members of Congress have urged the state department to block the project, arguing that the environmental effects could prove detrimental and that the pipeline would only increase the reliance on oil. Last month, more than 1,200 people were arrested outside of the White House while protesting the pipeline. Members of the state department have defended its review of the pipeline, saying it has opened the door to discussions with both industry and conservation groups.

In June, the Consumer Energy Alliance (which has a Florida affiliate) delivered more than 62,000 public comments supporting the project to the state department, all of which came from people living in the six states through which the proposed pipeline will travel: Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Michael Whatley, the organization’s executive vice president, said that the pipeline will be “the safest pipeline ever built in the United States,” and will generate more than $20 billion in new economic growth for the U.S. economy. How exactly the group’s comments were collected remains to be seen, but some have alleged that the Consumer Energy Alliance gathered them through telephone surveys with leading questions used to sway public opinion.

Though it bills itself as a “nonpartisan, grassroots organization,” the Energy Alliance is linked to the lobbying firm Community Strategies, run by lobbyist Michael Gibson, who purportedly lives in a million-dollar home in Washington, D.C., and has worked on behalf of the NRA, the Republican National Committee and San Diego Gas & Electric.

In a press release sent out yesterday, Associated Industries of Florida Vice President of Governmental Affairs Jose Gonzalez called the Keystone pipeline “a critical component of a national energy strategy that will ensure the U.S. has access to a stable, long-term energy supply through North American sources and will help our nation gain energy independence from uncertain foreign markets.” Associated Industries, which opposes regulations, operates its own political action committee (AIFPAC) in an effort to “to assist in the election of business friendly candidates to the Florida Legislature.”

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