Branstad: “Laughable” to Suggest Bakken Pipeline Approval Was Sure Thing

Iowa's governor says Big Oil probably hates him but he's received thousands from the industry

Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Gov. Terry Branstad on Tuesday dismissed accusations that he stacked the Iowa Utilities Board with Bakken pipeline sympathizers so the Texas-based Dakota Access LLC project’s approval would be assured, telling reporters, “It is kind of laughable. There is probably no guy that Big Oil hates more than me.”

Branstad appointed all three of the IUB’s current members, including Nick Wagner, who in February dismissed the idea that concerns over the impact the crude oil pipeline might have on climate change should play a role in the approval process. Although Branstad maintained his ostensible neutrality about the project throughout the process, he also said he wouldn’t oppose the use of eminent domain for it should it be greenlit and last year Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds received $2,500 from the the political action committee of Dakota Access’ parent company, Energy Transfer Partners.

The governor is also a close political ally – or, in his words to reporters Tuesday, “friend” – of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who sits on Energy Transfer’s corporate board of directors. In December 2013, the Des Moines Register noted in its coverage of Branstad’s remarks yesterday, the Iowa governor traveled to a Houston restaurant at Perry’s invitation for a re-election fundraiser attended by wealthy Texas political donors. (The following May, Perry helped out Branstad again, at a fundraiser hosted in Ames; the Bakken pipeline project wasn’t announced by Energy Transfer until that June.)

Campaign finance records show that Branstad received $102,786 from Texas donors during the month of the Texas fundraiser, according to the Register. “But Branstad insisted his strong stance in favor of renewable energy has put him at odds with the petroleum industry, which has been critical of the federal government’s Renewable Fuel Standard,” reporter William Petroski added.

“Oh, come on. I raised a lot more money from Iowa farmers and ethanol producers and people who are interested in wind energy and other things,” Branstad reportedly said. “Yes, I did get some support from my friend Rick Perry, who was a great governor and did a wonderful job of attracting business and jobs to Texas. There are things we can learn from each other, and I appreciate the support that he gave me, but it had nothing to do with oil.”

However, a closer look at those Lone Star State contributions may suggest otherwise. They included:

$10,000 from Austin oilman Alex Cranberg, CEO of Aspect Management Corp., which owns Aspect Energy International, a company that’s invested in energy production domestically and in places as far-reaching as the Kurdish region of Iraq.

$10,000 from James Dannenbaum, CEO of Houston-based Dannenbaum Engineering Corp., whose work includes pipelines.

$5,000 from Brad Tucker, president of Houston-based Mustang CAT, a company that sells Caterpillar bulldozers and excavators for pipeline construction and is part owner of Pipeline Machinery International.

$5,000 from Nick Stefanakis, president of Houston-based Womble Company Inc., which coats pipelines to protect against corrosion with the sort of epoxy responsible for the Bakken pipeline’s green color.

$2,500 from Spencer Armour, president of Plano-based PT Petroleum LLC.

Branstad did also receive $10,000 from Anthoney Buzbee, a high-profile attorney who in 2009 won a $100 million settlement for clients exposed to toxic chemicals at a Texas City oil refinery owned by BP. (The amount was later reduced by $99 million.)

In its report, the Register also mentioned the heat Branstad’s taken over the apparent politically motivated nature of many of his appointments, including members of the IUB (as well as Board of Regents president and Branstad donor Bruce Rastetter). Similarly, Perry faced criticism during his tenure as Texas’ governor for appointing political donors to state government positions. They included billionaire Gulf States Toyota CEO Dan Friedkin and Houston investor James H. Lee, who gave Branstad $10,000 and $6,881.61 (including $1,881.61 in in-kind contributions), respectively.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.