Senate Keystone Debate Begins With Lots of Amendments

The Senate voted today to begin debate on the Keystone Pipeline and a long list of amendments are expected, turning it into competing wish lists.

Here are some we’ve heard will be proposed – whether they actually get floor time is an open question. The debate is expected to continue for much of January.

Democrat amendments

Sen. Sanders (I-VT) will put Republicans on the spot on whether they accept the reality of climate change. He will ask for a vote on this:

Congress is in agreement with the opinion of virtually the entire worldwide scientific community that:

  1. Climate Change is Real
  2. Climate Change is caused by human activities
  3. Climate Change has already caused devastating problems in the US and around the world
  4. A brief window of opportunity exists before the US and the entire planet suffer irreparable harm
  5. It is imperative that the US transform its energy system away from fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy.

Other amendments seek to put proponents on the spot for the obvious weaknesses related to Keystone:

  • Require companies who send oil through the Keystone pipeline to pay into the oil spill cleanup fund – Sen. Cantwell (D-WA).
  • Ban exports of any oil that goes through the pipeline – Sen. Markey (D-MA).  
  • Made in USA materials must be used to build and maintain the pipeline;
  • Prohibit states from allowing a foreign corporation to invoke eminent domain, as just happened in Nebraska

Even a proposal for a National Renewable Energy Portfolio might make it in from Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), requiring utilities to get 25% of power from renewables by 2025.

GOP Amendments

  • A resolution that says that the pipeline is beneficial to the US and helps reduce greenhouse emissions
  • Lift the ban on exporting crude oil from the US – Senator Cruz (R-TX) 

Climate Denial

Sadly, one of our strongest environmental advocates is retiring from the Senate at the end of this term, Barbara Boxer (D-CA). During the debate, she tore arguments favoring Keystone apart after questioning proponents’ motives.

"When a new majority takes over in the Congress, you know the first bill that they take up symbolizes their priorities. And of all things, they pick a bill that in terms of permanent job creation, would be 35 long-term jobs. And you have to wonder, why are they doing this? I believe I know the answer. This is really a big hug and a big kiss to Big Oil and Canadian interests."

"We have deniers here, so they deny any problem and rush to build the Keystone pipeline – which undermines our efforts to address climate change. The State Department analysis says a barrel of tar sands oil carried by the pipeline will create at least 17% more carbon pollution than domestic oil, adding up to an additional 27 million metric tons of carbon each year. Peer-reviewed studies show it’s far worse than the State Department says. If you don’t believe climate change is a problem, I’m really sorry for your constituency. Because 98% of scientists say climate change is real. 2% say we’re not so sure. So my friends side with the 2 percent."

Similar arguments were made by strong progressives on the first day of debate: Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI): "If this were about jobs, bring up the Shaheen/Portman energy efficiency bill, the bipartisan bill that the Republicans spiked last year. That bill has been estimated to produce nearly 200,000 jobs, more than quadruple the 42,000 jobs supported by the construction of the pipeline. If this were about jobs, bring up the highway bill, estimated to support 3 million jobs a year, 70 times the number of jobs from Keystone. Our Republican friends relentlessly spiked the infrastructure bill when they were in the minority. Right now the economy is adding over 70,000 jobs every week.

What’s going on here is that the Republican party has become the political wing of the fossil fuel industry. There’s always been a trend to this within the Republican party. But since the Republican appointees on the Supreme Court gave the fossil fuel industry the great fat, juicy gift of its Citizens United decision, the fossil fuel industry control over Republicans in Congress has become near absolute."

Jeff Merkley (D-OR): We’re debating whether the dirtiest oil in the world are going to pass through the US in a pipeline like a straw to Port Arthur, Texas to a tax-free export zone so it can be exported out of the US. What’s in it for our country? We’re going to take the environmental risks, but the benefits flow to a Canadian company.

The key question is whether the pipeline would contribute to global warming. Building the Keystone pipeline would open the faucet to massive new reserves of tar sands that takes us in opposite direction of where we need to go. it takes us down the road to catastrophic climate change. Global warming is not some imaginary concept based on computer models of something that might happen 200 years from now.  I have a special interest: it’s called planet earth. It trumps the Koch brothers, it trumps the oil industry."

Proponents rely on the same false statements, that Keystone means energy independence for the US (no, because all the oil will be exported) and lots of jobs (no – 2000 temporary construction, 35 permanent), repeated by Joe Manchin (D-W.VA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Rob Portman (R-OH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and John Hoeven (R-ND). 

Tonight, rallies against the Keystone pipeline take place across the US, calling on President Obama to reject the pipeline once and for all. Find one near you.   

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