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Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Keystone Pipeline

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2015-01-22

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    DURBIN. Mr. President, let me join the majority leader in saying that I think we are in a healthy environment on the floor of the Senate where we are pursuing amendments and active debate, and it is great to see that happening. The only way that happens in the U.S. Senate is when the majority and the minority both work for it to happen. The rules of the Senate are constructed, as we both know well, so that literally any one Senator can stop the process. But the good-will and good-faith efforts of Senators on both sides of the aisle have really brought us to a good moment here.

    I wish to commend especially the leaders on the floor for this legislation, Senator Murkowski of Alaska on the Republican side, and on our side Senator Maria Cantwell and Senator Barbara Boxer. The two of them, in an extraordinary show of cooperation, have been able to work together to process amendments.

    The fact is we voted on nine amendments so far on this Keystone Pipeline measure. We have eight amendments pending today. So there is a good-faith effort on both sides to call up these important amendments with fairness to [[Page S368]] both sides of the aisle. I want to see that continue.

    I hope no one believes we are finished with eight amendments. We are not. There are other important amendments to be considered. Members have brought them to the attention of both sides, and I hope as quickly as we can that we will schedule them for consideration and a vote and move forward.

    Yesterday, what was fascinating was the fact that we branched off from this conversation about the Keystone Pipeline itself and the jobs--35 permanent jobs--that will be created for this Canadian corporation and started talking about some underlying, critically important issues. We spent a great deal of time on the floor discussing the environmental impact not just of the pipeline but of the Canadian tar sands which will be brought by the pipeline, if it is approved, into the United States for processing.

    It is interesting what we have learned so far during the course of this debate. When the Democrats insisted that this pipeline's product-- the oil that is refined and used for consumption--be sold in the United States, the Republicans voted no. The Republicans voted no. I have a lengthy memo on my desk of all of the Republican Senators who have come to the floor insisting that the Keystone Pipeline was going to create more gasoline, more diesel fuel, and help the American economy. Yet, when Senator Markey of Massachusetts offered an amendment to say keep the products coming from the Keystone Pipeline in the United States, the Republicans, to a person, voted no.

    Then Senator Franken came forward and said, Well, let's agree that if this is about jobs in America that the Keystone Pipeline will use American steel. That seems reasonable to me, and I voted for it. The Republicans voted no. They defeated the notion that we would use American steel to build this pipeline.

    This pipeline is Senate Bill 1 for the Senate Republicans. It is their highest priority. One would think that if it truly is a jobs bill, they would want American steel to be used to build the pipeline; let our steel mills build this pipeline in the future, create the jobs in America, and they voted no.

    Yesterday I offered an amendment as well. We know at the end of this pipeline, if tar sands reach the United States through this means or otherwise, it is a pretty nasty process taking the tar and sand out of the oil, and what is left over is a nasty product known as petcoke.

    Petcoke is now being stored in three-story-high piles in the city of Chicago. I have seen it. And the city is trying to get to the point where it is at least contained and covered. Yet, the company that owns it, which incidentally is a company owned by the Koch brothers--what an irony--this company has resisted the idea of covering these petcoke piles, so this nasty black substance blows through the community in southeast Chicago. The city of Chicago is in a battle.

    I tried to put in an effort yesterday so that we would establish standards for transportation and storage of petcoke, and the Republicans insisted it was a benign substance, it isn't hazardous, not dangerous, don't worry about it. If some of the Senators who voted against my amendment, tomorrow, God forbid, face this issue in their community, I think they will have a little different view of petcoke and what it can do to people, the impact it has on respiratory disease and asthma.

    Yesterday I didn't prevail. But I can tell my colleagues how over the years, as I fought the tobacco companies and they insisted there was nothing dangerous about tobacco, I heard those arguments from industry just as we are hearing the petcoke arguments from the petcoke industry. Ultimately, good sense prevailed, public health prevailed, and we moved toward regulation of tobacco products. We should do the same--basic regulation--to protect the public from any negative impact on their health relative to petcoke.

    The amendments continue today. Some of them are extraordinarily important. I hope we will continue to move toward the completion of this task in an orderly manner. I commend not only the leadership on the majority side, but I commend my colleagues too. We found over the past many years that the process of amendment would break down when one Republican Senator would stand up and say, I won't let any amendment be considered until my amendment is considered, No. 1. It even reached a point where Republican Senators would say, I won't let any amendment be considered unless I am guaranteed my amendment will pass. Well, when people take unreasonable positions and threaten filibusters, we break down the amendment process.

    We have tried, now being in the minority, to be more constructive, and we have reached that goal so far this week. I hope we continue to aspire to it and I hope we can wrap this bill up next week in an orderly manner.


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