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Sheldon W.
Democrat RI

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  • Keystone XL Pipeline Act—Motion to Proceed

    by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

    Posted on 2015-01-13

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    Read More about Keystone XL Pipeline Act--Motion to Proceed

    WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, with all of the issues our country faces, here we are debating a Canadian pipeline. What are we doing? A new majority has taken over the Senate and their first bill--their opening gambit--is the Keystone Pipeline. What is going on? Is it about jobs? There has been an awful lot of talk about jobs over the last couple of days, but this opening gambit--both obviously and demonstrably--has nothing to do about jobs. If this were about jobs, instead bring up the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill, the bipartisan bill 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, which came out of EPW unanimously last year. That bill was estimated to support 3 million jobs a year, 70 times the number of jobs the Keystone Pipeline will produce. Forty-two thousand is a pittance compared to that.

    Right now the economy is adding over 70,000 jobs every week. In the 3 weeks we spend arguing about this bill, we will add five times as many jobs as the Keystone Pipeline would provide. We matched Keystone in just 4 average days of job growth. Yet we are going to spend 3 weeks on this issue? If this were truly about jobs, bring up an infrastructure bill--the kind our Republican friends have relentlessly stymied when they were in the minority. Set up an infrastructure fund. God knows wherever we look American infrastructure is crumbling. Schools, airports, trains, water, health information infrastructure, smart grids, and broadband are all yearning for activity.

    We could do very big things on jobs. We get 13,000 jobs on average for every $1 billion spent on infrastructure, and we need the infrastructure, but instead we are doing this. It is definitely not about jobs.

    Is it about the merits of the pipeline? Hardly. With oil prices at $50 per barrel, it is not even clear that the pipeline is viable. The State Department calculated that crude oil prices below $75 per barrel would limit the development of tar sands crude.

    According to a recent report from the Canadian Energy Research Institute, due to a steep increase in production costs, new tar sands projects require crude prices of at least $85 per barrel to break even. We are around $50 per barrel. The U.S. Energy Information Agency predicts that crude oil prices will average below $65 well into 2015.

    Shell, Total, and Statoil have all canceled or postponed major tar sands expansion projects. Southern Pacific Resources has nearly gone broke transporting heavy crude to the gulf by rail. The Canexus terminal in Alberta has run far below capacity, plagued by logistical problems, lost contracts with developers, and has been put up for sale. At $50 per barrel this pipeline could already be a zombie pipeline-- dead man walking.

    Moreover, Keystone XL would be an environmental disaster. Notwithstanding the talking points to the contrary, the facts prove otherwise. As a source of carbon pollution alone, it will produce the equivalent of as many as 6 million added cars on our roads for 50 years. That is enough added carbon pollution to erase 70 percent of the carbon reductions from the recent motor vehicle emission standards that the automobile companies agreed to.

    The cost of that carbon pollution adds up. Using official U.S. estimates of the social cost of carbon, the economic damage of the emissions from the Keystone Pipeline will amount to $128 billion in harm over the lifetime of the project. These are enormous costs that we will pay, borne out as parched farmland, harms to our health, and flooded businesses and homes. It is not about jobs and it is not about the merits of this pipeline. Unfortunately, it is not even a venue for a serious discussion about climate change--for a conversation about what carbon pollution is doing to our atmosphere and oceans.

    In all of last week's conversation about the Keystone Pipeline tar sands bill, the number of times Republicans mentioned climate change was exactly one time, and that was only when Chairman Murkowski summarized testimony submitted to her energy committee by an opponent of the pipeline. She used the term while describing the witness's testimony. There was one reference to a Democratic witness's committee testimony, and that is it. There were ``zero'' serious conversations.

    We are long past time for a serious bipartisan conversation about carbon pollution and climate change. What a great thing it would be if part of the new majority's new responsibility was just to take an honest look at those issues. But for sure this isn't that. Republicans remain politically incapable of addressing climate change. Forget addressing climate change, Republicans remain politically incapable of even discussing it.

    It is not jobs, it is not the merits of the pipeline, it is not an opening on carbon pollution and climate change, and the President has already told us he is going to veto this bill.

    What the heck are we doing? I will tell you what I think we are doing--and I think the facts support this conclusion--but first what you have to understand to understand what is going on is that the Republican Party has become the political wing of the fossil fuels industry. There has always been a trend of 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, fossil fuel industry control over the Republican Party in Congress has become near absolute.

    According to the Center for American Progress, the fossil fuel industry spent nearly three-quarters of $1 billion over the last 2 years on lobbying and direct and third-party campaign contributions. That is just what is reported. That doesn't even count the anonymous dark money that is preferred by many special interest donors. It certainly doesn't include the pungent fact that even if a special interest never spends the money, just quiet, private, backroom threats of attack ads can influence political behavior.

    We can argue this point more on another day. I have talked about it frequently, and I think I have made the case pretty convincingly in other ``Time to Wake Up'' speeches that the evidence points to this as the present state of affairs within the Republican Party. So for purposes of this discussion, take it as my premise, anyway, [[Page S171]] that the Republican Party in Congress is now effectively the political wing of the fossil fuel industry.

    That premise clarifies what is happening here. The fossil fuel industry has a shiny new Republican Senate majority, and it wants to take it out for a spin. It wants to take its new Republican-controlled Congress out for a spin. That is what this Keystone opening gambit is all about. This is somewhere between performance art, a show of obedience, and a show of force.

    Well, fine. Take us out for a spin. Have your fun. But the laws of nature that turn carbon pollution into climate change and into ocean acidification aren't going away. God laid down those laws, and they are not subject to repeal by man. Ignore them all you want. Worship at the altar of the fossil fuel Baal all you want, but there will be a price to pay for this negligence and inaction. It is truly time for this body to wake up.

    I yield the floor.

    Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Cruz). The clerk will call the roll.

    The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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