Written with Jim Efstathiou Jr.
If the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, ascends to secretary of state — no sure thing given the pre-emptive Republican strikes against her — she may have to sideline herself from the politically sensitive policy debate on whether to permit construction of a $7 billion pipeline from Canada’s oil sands region to Texas refineries.
The reason: Rice and her husband own shares valued at more than $4.1 million in five Canadian companies involved in oil sands development, including $300,000 to $600,000 in shares of TransCanada Corp., which is seeking State Department approval to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
Rice also holds stock worth $1.25 million to $1.5 million in Imperial Oil Ltd., the second-largest Canadian oil producer. Imperial is 70 percent owned by Exxon Mobil Corp. Her portfolio includes Canadian companies Cenovus Energy Inc., Suncor Energy Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., all of which operate in Western Canada’s oil sands region.
Investments in Canadian energy and financial companies account for a substantial share of their reported assets of $23.5 million to $43.5 million, according to federal disclosure reports compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington research group.
The State Department has jurisdiction over the pipeline because it would cross an international border. In 2011, an environmental study by the department found that the project poses “no significant impacts to most resources” along its route.
Already under fire from some Republican senators for her comments following the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, Rice now may have trouble with an important Democratic constituency, environmentalists.
Rice’s investments were brought to light in a report on the Natural Resources Defense Council’s OnEarth Web-site.
The NRDC opposes the Keystone XL project, which needs State Department approval because it crosses an international border.
“Rice’s financial holdings could raise questions about her status as a neutral decision maker,” wrote Scott Dodd, editor of OnEarth.org and author of the report.
Financial holdings do not necessarily preclude nomination or confirmation for a top administration post.
“Ambassador Rice is in full compliance with all financial disclosure requirements related to her service in the U.S. government and is committed to continuing to meet these obligations,” her spokeswoman, Erin Pelton, said in an e-mail.
TransCanada re-applied in May for a U.S. permit for parts of the Keystone XL pipeline, after a prior application was rejected by President Barack Obama on Jan. 18. Environmental groups objected to the route, citing a danger that leaks may pose to the Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska, a source of drinking-water source for 1.5 million people.
The decision may be among the early matters to be considered by whoever succeeds Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has said she will step down around the end of Obama’s first term. The OnEarth report notes that the other prominent candidate for secretary of state, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who lists total asset of as much as $322 million, also holds shares in some Canadian energy companies, though not TransCanada.