Keystone XL Pipeline Act—Motion to Proceedby Senator Maria Cantwell
Posted on 2015-01-09
CANTWELL. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order
for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Ms. CANTWELL. Mr. President, I come to the floor this morning to talk about the Keystone XL Pipeline. I see my colleague from Alaska is here this morning, and I think she and I were thinking we would be continuing this debate next Monday as the Senate moves forward on the motion to proceed to rule XIV of the bill that relates to this issue. Obviously we had committee action yesterday, but we are both here this morning.
I wish to say to my colleague before she leaves the floor that I do look forward to the opportunity where she and I can sit down and talk about an energy strategy and other issues that will help move our country forward so we can produce jobs.
I had a chance to work with Senator Murkowski's father and other Republicans on the energy committee. We produced some very good energy legislation in both 2005 and 2007 that did result in moving our country forward. It was bipartisan legislation and definitely not unanimous. I mean, there was a great deal of debate about them, but we got them done nonetheless. I am looking forward to working with the Senator from Alaska on these issues.
It is probably safe to say the Senator from Alaska and I had plans this morning other than coming to the Senate floor; nonetheless, I am more than happy to talk about the recent decision by the Nebraska Supreme Court and how Congress will continue to discuss the issue of Keystone XL approval. Many of my colleagues probably know that the House will take up this action sometime today. The President has consistently said he is interested in having the process play out in Nebraska before he makes a decision about whether this pipeline is in the national interest. The President of the United States and the State Department have the authority and responsibility to look at this issue as it relates to what is in the national interest of the United States of America.
This decision by the Nebraska Supreme Court today is a very interesting decision. It is a very interesting decision because a majority of the Nebraska Supreme Court, four out of the seven justices on the court, said this law was unconstitutional--this attempt to circumvent the public interest process by which the citizens of Nebraska can raise concerns about a pipeline going through their community. The majority of the supreme court said, yes, that decision to short circuit the public process in Nebraska was unconstitutional.
Unfortunately for those citizens in Nebraska and those citizens in the United States of America who want to make sure the environmental security issues and economic issues are fully discussed, they are getting shut down by a supermajority of the Nebraska Supreme Court. They failed to get five out of the seven supreme court justices to side with them. Nonetheless, I think there is a lot in this decision for all of us to think about; that is, just how much this process has been circumvented.
To me it is very unusual that the Senate would be asked to vote on a bill that would expedite the siting of a pipeline through the United States of America simply because a Canadian company wants us to do so. It is perplexing to me because I hear a lot of people talk about our neighbors, and I definitely value the relationship that the United States and Canada have. We are in the process of a major discussion with them on issues that impact the Pacific Northwest, and we have to work with our neighbors.
I am struck that my state has a great relationship with British Columbia, which is Washington's neighbor to the north. Sixty-eight percent of British Columbian residents oppose a tar sands pipeline across their province. That is right, a Canadian province definitely does not want a tar sands pipeline going through their neighborhood.
We have First Nations all across Canada who don't want tar sands development and pipelines across Canada. In addition, there are a lot of concerns about environmental practices for tar sands production that are in place in Alberta.
People should know that the oil and gas producing province of Alberta, not the federal government of Canada, regulates tar sands development. Alberta does not require what we in the U.S. would consider ``best practices'' for development of some of the dirtiest oil production in the world. In the U.S., we actually have federal laws that make oil production cleaner than in Alberta.
There is a lot of concern about these not only tar sands production, but also about byproducts, such as pet coke. As my colleague from Michigan stated in our business meeting yesterday, uncovered pet coke mounds, which could just blow around in the wind, caused serious environmental concerns in Michigan and Illinois. In addition, I am sure my colleague from California has been down here talking about benzene, which is a byproduct that is left behind and can adversely affect individuals.
To say that just because this Nebraska court decision became final today, that all those environmental issues and public safety issues have gone away, is surely a misstatement. Congress is being pressured to make a sweetheart deal for a business interest.
I believe tar sands producers should pay into the oil spill liability trust fund, just as companies that produce other oil products have to do. This is a very important issue for me because oilspills are a situation that we in the Pacific Northwest have cared about for a long period of time. In fact, the Commandant of the Coast Guard appeared before the Senate commerce committee last year, and I had a chance to ask the commandant whether the Coast Guard had a way to respond to a tar sands oilspill, and he basically told me that, no, they didn't.
So, to me, there are a lot of environmental issues, a lot of process issues, and issues of paying a fair share for helping to clean up oilspills--and these issues all add up to serious concerns with legislatively approving a construction project. My colleagues on the other side want to turn Congress into a siting commission, to give a special interest the certainty to move forward on a project that needs to go through the proper process and channels.
In the State of Nebraska, the public said we have concerns about a tar sands pipeline running through our state, straight through the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region and the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides drinking water to six states. Instead of dealing with those environmental issues, the company and its advocates came to the Congress and tried to get that route approved. This is why the President had to reject the proposal in 2012--because TransCanada did not want to do right be the citizens of Nebraska or the environment.
The long and short of it is, if TransCanada had been successful in getting the original route approved, that pipeline would go across the Ogallala Aquifer. There is now a broad consensus that this would have been the wrong route, endangering the water supply in America's agricultural heartland.
So, thank God, Congress, which tried to act and give a sweetheart deal to TransCanada, was thwarted by the President. The President said, I cannot approve this project now. And guess what happened. The company said, yes, that is right; we have to figure out a better route for the pipeline. And TransCanada had to start the process all over with a new application for a better route through Nebraska.
In my State, a utility and transportation commission--in the State of Nebraska I think it is called a public service commission--oversees the siting process for these kinds of infrastructure projects. That commission has a public process and answers all of the questions the public raises, debates the issues that are before the public and makes sure those issues are taken into account--I know many of my colleagues probably can relate to this more from the perspective of siting transmission lines or a grid system. I am sure people have seen a neighborhood complaining about a transmission line going through their neighborhood. This is a pipeline, and for us pipelines are very important in the Pacific Northwest. We had a natural gas pipeline that blew up, killing some young children in the Bellingham area. So, for me, pipeline siting, and the process [[Page S128]] that goes into assuring the safety and security of the siting, should be decided in the broad daylight of public discussion through the proper channels. In this case, people circumvented that public commission process in Nebraska, circumvented what would have been a utilities and transportation commission process, and let the Governor decide the route. Then the decision was sent to the Nebraska Supreme Court to determine whether in fact the Governor had the authority to do that. Four of those seven justices said it was unconstitutional--not the supermajority for sure, but four of them said it was unconstitutional. But nothing in that decision corrected the original problem of them circumventing the environmental and economic and security issues that a public commission is supposed to go through in this process.
I ask my colleagues, why are we in such a big hurry to make this decision on behalf of a utility commission and on behalf of the President of the United States when there are real issues of safety and security that need to be discussed? Next week my colleagues are going to have a lot of discussion on a lot of different amendments, but I still advocate that Congress has no business deciding for a special interest where a pipeline should go without the due process of citizens who are affected by pipeline having input to the decision.
I hope my colleagues will continue to let the process play out. I hope my colleagues will care more about public process and public interest than special interest. There is a great article, which I will submit for the Record, in Business Week citing welding issues with the current Keystone Pipeline. That existing pipeline has had safety problems.
We in the Pacific Northwest celebrate that we are a gateway to Asia, and we celebrate the fact that a lot of people will want to use that gateway. But we are very concerned about due process for infrastructure projects. We see other countries wanting to move energy and other products through our gateway when safety, security, environmental, and public issues are not being fully addressed.
I hope my colleagues will continue to make sure due process is given and that we will continue to make sure all of these public interest and environmental issues are addressed.
I thank the Presiding Officer, and I yield the floor.
I see the leader on the floor, so I will not suggest the absence of a quorum.