The Senate voted on a series of crucial amendments yesterday, and in a rare moment, the results were in favor of people who want clean energy instead of endlessly more oil drilling.
30 amendments have been holding up S.1813, the $109 billion Surface Transportation Bill.
The Democratically-controlled Senate defeated Republican amendments to force approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, block the EPA's clean boiler rule, and expand offshore oil drilling everywhere possible.
Other amendments still need to be voted on, including Sen. Debbie Stabenow's (D-MI) amendment to extend the hugely important Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit for one year. It would also extend the Section 1603 grant program which recently expired as well as efficient manufacturing tax credits.
It requires 60 votes to pass which means at least some Republicans would have to vote in favor of it.
President Obama wants to make the PTC credit permanent as part of his proposed corporate tax reform. It needs to get out of "boom and bust" mode to give investors and businesses certainty.
Another amendment, by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) would repeal all energy-related tax credits and would actually repeal tax credits that have already been awarded retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012. It would be a disastrous blow to the industry.
The Natural Gas Act amendment would expand use of natural gas as a transportation fuel, especially in the heavy-trucking industry.
TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline
The Senate voted to reject another GOP attempt to fast-track the tar-sands pipeline across 1,700 miles of American heartland.
Senator John Hoeven's (R-ND) amendment would have stripped President Obama's authority to permit the pipeline and would have forced it through.
It needed 60 votes to pass and was voted down 56-42, largely along party lines, except for 11 Dems in fossil fuel states. Even "moderate" Republicans, Susan Collins (R-ME) and Olympia Snow (D_ME) voted in favor of the pipeline. Interestingly, a likely alternative should the pipeline be rejected is to push a tar sands pipeline from Canada through Maine.
President Obama made personal calls to Democratic senators asking them to oppose the amendment. White House press secretary Jay Carney called GOP efforts to approve the pipeline "purely ideological and political." He said, "The president believes it's wrong to play politics with a pipeline project whose route has yet to be proposed. Despite claims that this pipeline would somehow solve the pain at the pump today, it would take years before a single drop of oil would flow through the pipeline."
Senator Wydon's (D-OR) amendment was also voted down, which would have prevented exports of any tar sands oil should the pipeline be eventually approved. No Republicans voted in favor of the amendment, "exposing how the oil industry is misleading the American public by claiming that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is for U.S. energy security, when it is really meant to give tar sands a deep water port from which it can be exported overseas," says the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC).
350.org's Bill McKibben, who's been leading the charge against the pipeline, and delivered over 800,000 signatures protesting it in February, noted that Senators who voted in favor received over $27 million from fossil fuel industries, 3 times more than those who voted against it.
TransCanada spent $1.3 million on lobbying in Washington, D.C. and another $500,000 in Nebraska in just the past year.
"The vote was close," he says, "but given that this pipeline was a 'no brainer' a year ago, it's pretty remarkable that people power was able to keep working, even in the back rooms of the oil-soaked Senate."
Meanwhile, Republicans vow to continue the "good fight" for dirty tar sands and TransCanada moved last week to build the southern portion of the pipeline, which is much easier to get permitting.
"We intend to continue our efforts, including on this bill," Sen. Hoeven told reporters. "Remember, we're going to have to come to an agreement with the House, and I believe there is strong support for the Keystone XL pipeline project in the House as well." If not, there will be other opportunities, says Sen. Dick Lugar (R-ID).
Offshore Oil Drilling
An amendment by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) would have dramatically expanded offshore oil-and-gas leasing - it too was defeated 46-52.
Even though President Obama has opened much of the coasts to offshore drilling and the US is producing more oil than in a decade, that wasn't enough.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) led the opposition, saying it would destroy America's pristine coastlines and the tourism industry that depends on them. "It's just a big giveaway to oil," she said, "and threatens our coastal economies."
Gulf Restoration Bill Passes
The RESTORE the Gulf Coast States Act passed as amendment in a bipartisan 76-22 vote.
It ensures that 80% of the fines paid by BP and others responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill go into a special fund to "restore and revitalize" the Gulf of Mexico.
It will be used to rebuild Gulf economies impacted by the spill and to restore resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, and coastal wetlands.
The House recently approved a similar amendment. Now it goes to conference where the House and Senate will hopefully resolve the differences between the two amendments.
BP and the other companies face billions of dollars in penalties in Clean Water Act violations. If courts rule BP was negligent under the Clean Water Act, it will have to pay $1,000 for every barrel of oil spilled into the Gulf, and if they rule BP was grossly negligent, it will have to pay $4,200 per barrel. That adds up to $5.4 billion to $21.1 billion for 4.9 million barrels spilled, which many believe is far below the real amount.
EPA Boiler Rules
The Senate also defeated Sen. Susan Collins' (R-ME) amendment, 52-46, to delay and soften the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) boiler regulations. It required 60 votes to pass.
It would have given the EPA 15 months to propose new "achievable" rules that are the "least burdensome" on industry.
Last year, the EPA released regulations under federal court orders - that were less stringent than initially proposed because of pressure from the GOP. It requires industrial boiler and incinerators to install pollution prevention technology that reduces mercury, soot and other pollutants that severely harm peoples' health.
A court finally had to order EPA to issue rules after years of neglect during the Bush administration.