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Jeff M.
Democrat OR

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  • Keystone XL Pipeline Act—Motion to Proceed

    by Senator Jeff Merkley

    Posted on 2015-01-13

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    MERKLEY. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to speak for 15 minutes.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mr. MERKLEY. Mr. President, I wish today to address S. 1, which would approve construction of the Keystone Pipeline to transport tar sands heavy oil from Canada to the gulf coast. The key consideration is whether this bill, by authorizing the pipeline, would contribute significantly to global warming, which is already damaging our rural resources and our future economic prospects with profound consequences for families in America and around the world.

    Also, are there better ways to create jobs that would enhance rather than damage our economy? In the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, ``Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.'' Let's start by examining the impact of the Keystone Pipeline on atmospheric carbon dioxide pollution and global warming. This chart displays the variations in carbon dioxide that have occurred over time, back through the last 800,000 years. We have seen that carbon dioxide levels have gone up and down within a modest range until modern times and the Industrial revolution.

    At that point, where they continued to oscillate as they have in the past, we see a steady, upward progress into a realm not seen within these last 800,000 [[Page S173]] years. This is the impact simply of human kind pulling up a lot of fossil fuel out of the ground and burning it--whether it comes in the form of coal or it comes in the form of oil or it comes in the form of gas.

    Now, let's take a look and see how the temperature of the planet has corresponded with the levels of carbon dioxide. What we find, going back in time, is a very strong correlation with the carbon dioxide in red and temperature change in blue--a very close correlation between carbon dioxide around our planet and the temperature of the planet.

    Well, this makes enormous sense since any high school student can establish in the laboratory that carbon dioxide has thermal properties in trapping heat. As less heat radiates from the Earth, the Earth warms. Well, this certainly bears upon our stewardship of this planet. By many estimates, to contain global warming to 2 degrees Celsius--that is just shy of 3.9 degrees Fahrenheit--human civilization must transition aggressively and rapidly away from conventional fossil fuels and toward the use of nonfossil, renewable energy.

    Now, this shift is within our power. It is a challenge presented by this circumstance and by our stewardship of human civilization on this planet. But are we up to the task? Do we have the political will to undertake responsible stewardship of our beautiful blue-green Earth? That is the test that stands before this body--this Senate--at this very moment.

    Building the Keystone Pipeline, which opens the faucet to rapid exploitation of massive new unconventional fossil reserves--the tar sands--takes us in the exact opposite direction from where we need to go. It locks us into the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet for a generation. It accelerates human civilization down the road to catastrophic climate change.

    That is why building the Keystone Pipeline is a mistake. There is a lot at stake. Global warming is not some imaginary concept based on computer models or something that might happen 50 to 100 years from now. Indeed, global warming is not only present right now, but it is already making vast changes in State after State, and nation after nation.

    The warmest 10 years on record for global average surface temperature have occurred in the last 12 years. Let me repeat that. The warmest 10 years on record for global average surface temperature have occurred in the last 12 years. That is pretty powerful evidence that something dramatic is occurring. The effects can be seen in every State. The average forest fire season in the United States is getting longer. Since the 1980s the season has grown by 60 to 80 days. That is 2 to 3 months of additional fire season. The average amount of acres consumed annually by wildfires has doubled to more than 7 million acres.

    One study estimates that global warming, through the combined impact of greater pine beetle infestation and the greater number of forest fires and more severe forest fires will decimate the western forests of the United States by the end of this century. That is not the only impact that we are seeing. In addition, the snowpack in our mountains-- in our Cascade Mountains--is decreasing, which means smaller and warmer trout streams. That is not good for fishing.

    It means less water for irrigation--not good for farming. The Klamath Basin, a major agricultural basin in Oregon, has suffered through many years and three horrific droughts just since 2001, in substantial part, because of the lower snowpack.

    This chart, which shows Washington State, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, shows the areas of intensity of the decrease in snowpack. The decreases are circled in red and the increases in the snowpack are circled in blue. As you can see, the decreasing snowpacks vastly, vastly outweigh the occasional spots where there have been reported increases.

    This translates to the types of droughts we have been seeing in the Klamath Basin, in this area of southern Oregon, and the droughts we have seen in northern California, a very significant impact on agriculture.

    So when some are critical on this floor--some climate deniers who choose to ignore all of the facts on the ground and say there is no impact and no harm--well, they simply are putting forth a myth designed to serve the oil, fossil fuel, and coal industries in order to advance those powerful special interests.

    Well, I have a special interest. That special interest is the people of Oregon, who are being impacted by the longer forest fires, who are being impacted by the droughts. I have a special interest. It is called planet Earth. That trumps the Koch brothers, that trumps the coal industry, that trumps the oil industry.

    There are other impacts that we are seeing. One is the impact on our oceans. As the high levels of carbon dioxide in the air interact through wave action with the ocean, the ocean absorbs some of that carbon dioxide. As it absorbs that carbon dioxide, it becomes carbonic acid. Here we see some charts from Hawaii. In the purple here we have the change in atmospheric carbon dioxide over a 50-year period.

    Then we have measurements of carbon dioxide in blue in the water. Then we have the measurements, over that same period, of the pH or acidic content of the oceans. What we are seeing is that as the pH level drops, that means that the oceans are more acidic. Now, what happens when the ocean is more acidic? It affects the coral reefs, for one. Coral reefs are very sensitive to this. We have seen, from scientists who are studying coral reefs, significant damage both from water temperatures and from increasing acidity.

    One scientist from Oregon State University who studies coral reefs around the world came here to DC and presented a series of slides showing the reefs he studied. He said: These are my babies and my babies are dying. Those coral reefs are the basic food chain for a significant amount of sea life that is harvested for human consumption. To put it differently, fishing families around the world often depend on the coral reefs to sustain the foundation of their livelihood.

    Off the Pacific coast, we are seeing a big impact on our oysters. The Whiskey Creek shellfish hatchery started having trouble in 2008 with the growth of its baby oysters that are known as oyster seeds. I visited that hatchery 3 months ago to hear their story about what they had faced.

    At first they thought: Well, maybe this problem is from a bacteria. Maybe this problem is from a virus. Maybe this is from something else. They brought in Oregon State University to research and they figured out that it was, in fact, the acidity of the water, the very acidity that I just showed you the chart about.

    The acidity does not happen in just one place. It is happening broadly across the world. The oyster seed--if they are having trouble fixing their shells because of the high acidity in the water, well then what else is going on? The oysters--here are some headlines related to the oysters.

    Up in Washington State, the Seattle Times reported: ``Oysters dying as coast is hit hard.'' In fact, I was flipping through channels a month or 2 ago, and there was the Governor of Washington over at a hatchery on the coast of Washington, just like I visited Whiskey Creek Hatchery in Oregon. It is the same story. Oysters are dying. Why? Because of the acidity of the water.

    This is a headline from the Los Angeles Times: ``Oceans' rising acidity a threat to shellfish--and humans.'' From Oregon: ``Researchers scramble to deal with dying Northwest oysters.'' So for my colleagues who want to wreak this kind of harm to our farms, to our fisheries, and to our forests, how about you figure out from the folks of your State how to pay for the damage being done in my State to our forests, our fishing, and our farming. How about you figure out how to pay for the damage being done throughout the United States and throughout the planet. You want to unleash the dirtiest oil in the world from the tar sands and increase this damage? Tell me how you are going to compensate those who are injured across this Nation and across the world.

    I hear a lot of comments about responsibility. I hear a lot of comments from my colleagues across the aisle about accountability. Put your actions where your statements are and show us some accountability for the damage you are wreaking by approving this pipeline, by voting for this pipeline.

    [[Page S174]] Does this bill before us, which would open the faucet on a massive new reserve of fossil fuels, advance the stewardship of the planet? Does it advance our rural economy? Clearly the answer is no. Stewardship, accountability, and responsibility would insist that we not open this faucet to further damage of the kind we are seeing right now, that we not unlock the tar sands.

    But proponents of the pipeline say: Wait, we have some arguments on our side. Let's examine those arguments.

    First they say: You know, this will create 4,000 construction jobs.

    Well, let's take a look at this chart. This is a chart that shows the Keystone--roughly 4,000 construction jobs. That represents this little tiny line at the bottom, if you can even see it.

    Now let's talk about the Rebuild America Act, which colleagues across the aisle filibustered in order to kill it even though it was revenue neutral. That is how many jobs the Rebuild America Act would create.

    If you want to talk jobs, let's talk about a jobs bill. Let's substitute the Rebuild America Act for the Keystone act. Let's have a real jobs bill, a real stimulus bill, a bill that would put people to work in construction across this Nation in a way more intense fashion than would the Keystone bill.

    Proponents have a second argument. They say that bringing this additional oil from Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico will increase our national security because all that oil will be refined and utilized in the United States.

    Well, my colleagues are a little confused about this. They haven't thought about why it is Canada wants to ship it to a gulf port--so that it can have access to world markets, so that it can get the world market price. Our refineries in the gulf coast are largely fully occupied now. An additional supply of crude means additional crude you can export to other countries that have refineries that are short of supply. Well, that is profitable to Canada, but that doesn't mean the oil will get used in the United States.

    They say: But wait a minute, some of it might get refined and utilized in the U.S. system.

    Well, let's acknowledge that some of it might get refined, albeit it is clear why the oil is being shipped to the gulf coast because it is being shipped there to get into the world market and be available for export to the world. Let's say some of it might happen to be utilized in the United States. That little bit of impact is nothing compared to what we can do by investment in renewable energy that would decrease our reliance on fossil fuels. So a far better solution would be investing in renewable, non-fossil fuel energy that doesn't have the impact on the fishing, the farming, and the forests.

    But, say proponents, if the Keystone Pipeline is not built, an alternative pipeline will be built through Canada.

    Well, that is certainly highly questionable. If it were easier and cheaper to go through Canada, TransCanada would not be seeking to build the Keystone Pipeline.

    Oh, they say, they will figure out a way to run a pipeline west to the Pacific.

    But you know that has to pass through First Nation lands, and it has to have all kinds of approvals. And there are folks in Canada who actually feel as deeply and passionately about being good stewards of our planet and not contributing to the assault on our forests, our farming, and fishing as many of us here feel, and there is going to be intense opposition. That is why TransCanada wants to push this through the United States in order to reach the world market and the gulf coast. It is cheaper and easier, and they have no confidence they can build a pipeline to substitute.

    Opponents say: If it is not shipped by pipeline, it will be shipped by railroad--which, of course, is again way off the fact track because the railroads are already congested, making additional capacity modest at best. In addition, the price point for shipping by rail is much higher than the price point for shipping by pipeline. If you change the price of the pipeline, you change the supply and demand curve, and you don't end up producing the same amount of oil.

    So these arguments made are thin efforts to camouflage a fundamental fact that this is a great deal for TransCanada, it is a great deal for the oil industry, and it is a terrible deal for Americans depending on rural resources, a terrible deal for our oceans and our fisheries, a terrible deal for our forests, and a terrible deal for our farming.

    So if you care about the future economy of the United States, if you care about rural America, if you care about all of us who depend on rural America for these wonderful and important resources, then you will oppose this pipeline.

    There is no question, this is a sweetheart deal. Talk about accountability? TransCanada won't even have to pay into the oilspill liability fund. They are being exempted from that fund. They do not have to pay into the insurance fund that will help clean up when their pipeline leaks. And they all leak. That is outrageous. You want accountability? Put forward the amendment that says they would have to pay into the oilspill liability fund, the same as any other person or group pumping oil through a pipeline in the United States. Say that they would be fully responsible for every bit of damage that local governments and State governments and the U.S. Government have to pay for to compensate for the damage created by those oilspills. Let's hear some responsibility and accountability from the proponents of this pipeline, not this sweetheart deal for a Canadian company.

    Tackling carbon pollution--global warming--is going to take an enormous amount of international cooperation. Just recently, the United States and China entered into an agreement to address global climate change. President Obama announced the goal of cutting American net greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The Chinese President announced that China would invest heavily in renewable energy to generate 20 percent of China's energy from nonfossil sources by 2030 and would seek to decrease China's CO2 emissions thereafter.

    These goals will require significant efforts by the United States and massive investments by China. Do they go far enough? No, not in the context of the challenge faced because of our elevated carbon dioxide levels around the world, but this agreement by the two biggest carbon polluters among nations is a significant step forward. It is the type of leadership the world has been asking for.

    We cannot simply wish for nations to work together, we have to do our part. That is why we should be talking today not about how to turn on the tap for the dirtiest oil on the planet but how to work with other nations to invest in energy conservation, to invest in non-fossil fuel renewable energy.

    Let's turn back to the test President Theodore Roosevelt put before us. He said that there is no more important mission than ``leaving this land even a better land for our descendents than it is for us.'' That is the challenge. Let's rise to that challenge.

    Mr. President, let's rise to that challenge. Help lead your colleagues--all of us--in stopping this assault on our farms, our fishing, and our forestry. Stop this sweetheart deal for a Canadian company, and let's substitute a real jobs bill, a rebuild America jobs bill that will create more than a hundredfold more construction jobs than the jobs we have before us.

    When we think about the complete lack of accountability and responsibility embedded in this bill, when we think about the enormous damage that comes from turning on the faucet to the dirtiest oil in the world, there really is only one way to vote on this bill, and that is to vote no.

    I yield the floor.


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