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Benjamin C.
Democrat MD

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  • Keystone XL Pipeline

    by Senator Benjamin L. Cardin

    Posted on 2015-01-07

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    CARDIN. Thank you, Mr. President. I take this time--and some of my colleagues will be joining me--to express concerns about the first major bill that has been brought to the floor under the Republican leadership dealing with the Keystone Pipeline.

    I want to start first by talking about the so-called urgency for us to take this issue up and circumvent the normal process. The normal process would be for this matter to continue through the regulatory review, which is there to protect the public interest. To short-circuit that in an unprecedented way and for Congress to approve a site for a pipeline is not the way it is done.

    In order to consider this there must be some urgency. First, let me just share with my colleagues what the American people are experiencing with the price of gasoline at the pump. It is at a historic low over the last 5 years, with $2.19 the average price for gasoline at the pump. So there is certainly no urgency if we are talking about trying to get more oil in the pipelines for the cost of energy. By the way, I think we all understand that our actions here in this Congress will have very little to do with the availability of oil in the near term. It would take some time to construct the pipeline and for it to have an impact on the level of oil that is available.

    The second issue that I find somewhat puzzling with regard to the urgency of this issue--and some of my colleagues have pointed it out on both sides of this issue--is that there is already a pipeline that is available that could be used. Admittedly, it is not as efficient as what they are trying to do with the Keystone, and that is to make tar sand, the dirty oil we have, more economically available and feasible to be transported. That makes little sense under today's economics and the price of gasoline makes it even more hard to understand. Construction of this pipeline and the approval of this Congress will have very little to do with the consumer availability of energy here in the United States.

    Now, compound the fact that we are talking about Canadian oil, the dirtiest oil--the tar sand oil--that is being transported through the United States because Canada doesn't want to transport it through their own country because of their concerns on the environmental side and which ends up in Texas at the Port Arthur, TX, refinery. Now for those who are not familiar, that is a foreign tax zone which is tax-free. So, therefore, the oil can go into the international marketplace in a very easy manner. Valero, which is one of the potential users--consumers of this oil--is building export facilities in order to handle more exports to the international communities. None of us can speak with any definitive judgment as to how much of this oil will in fact end up in the United States, but the fact that they are transporting it to a southern port--they are not transporting it to a refinery in the Midwest, which would be a lot closer and a lot cheaper--is a clear indication this oil will end up in the international marketplace and will have very little to do [[Page S47]] with energy security in the United States. I think we have to make that clear.

    We are bypassing the normal process to allow Canadian oil to enter the international marketplace more efficiently with risk to the United States and very little benefit. Why are we doing this? We hear it will give us jobs. I am for job creation. I would like to see us work on a transportation bill where we could create millions of jobs in a far more harmonious way than we can with Keystone. I am for clean energy policies which will create great permanent jobs in the United States. But the job creation estimates for the Keystone Pipeline are that it will create literally a few thousand temporary construction jobs. They are not permanent jobs. There are only a handful of permanent jobs. So it isn't about creating jobs, and it is not about energy security in the United States.

    What is this all about? There is very little benefit compared to the risk factors in the United States. Let me talk about the risk factors which give most of us concern. The environmental risk factors have us the most concerned. Tar sand is a multitype of product that is literally mined and processed into a crude oil which is very thick and dirty. There are different ways to get to the tar sand, but one way to get to the tar sand is to take the topsoil off the property and mine it through a strip mining process. That has been done in Canada, and it is still being done in Canada, causing tremendous environmental damage. It is, in and of itself, a process that most of us would want to avoid. Yet this legislation does nothing to prevent that type of processing of the tar sands. Tar sands produce a very thick oil product that can only make its way through the pipeline by it being processed, and it creates additional risk factors because of the way it is processed.

    There have been oil spills of the tar sands product. We have seen it in Arkansas and we have seen it in Michigan. It caused devastating damage. It is not easy to clean up. It is not like normal crude. It causes permanent-type damage to a community, as we saw most recently in Michigan. So there are risks associated with taking Canadian oil in an effort to make it easier to reach the international marketplace, unlikely to end up in the United States, creating few permanent jobs. Frankly, a lot of us don't quite understand this.

    As I said, it is dirty. The use of this tar sands oil produces a much larger carbon footprint than other crude oil, causing additional problems in dealing with climate change. We have a serious issue with what is happening to our environment. I am proud to represent the State of Maryland. Most of the people in my State live in coastal areas. They know the consequences of global climate change. They understand it. They know what is happening along the coast, and they know we are at risk. They understand the fact that we have inhabitable islands in the Chesapeake Bay that have disappeared and are disappearing. They understand that our seafood crop, the blue crab, is threatened because the warming water affects the sea grass growth which is critically important for juvenile crabs to survive. They understand the risks and want us to be responsible in dealing with climate change. They also know that we are getting a lot more extreme weather in the east coast of the United States and throughout our country.

    They know on the west coast. They are getting dry spells and wildfires. They understand the risks. They understand the cost to America of not dealing with climate change issues. The costs involve not only direct damage that is caused but also in the global consequences of climate change.

    So we are worried about our carbon fingerprint. We are proud the United States is joining other countries in dealing with climate issues.

    I applaud the work of President Obama, in the most recent international meetings, when he dealt with climate change issues. We need to do a better job.

    Why are tar sands an issue? Because tar sands produce more carbon emissions than other types of oil. It is about 81 percent higher than the average use of crude oil and 17 percent higher than the well-to- wheels basis of producing oil. That is a concern. That translates into millions and millions of cars--the difference between that and having millions of cars on the roads. It is an important part of our leadership.

    If we are trying to establish international credibility and then we facilitate more of this dirty tar sands oil, what message does that send? What type of cooperation should we expect to receive? I am trying to figure out why this is the new priority of the leadership in the Senate. Why is this the very first bill to come to the floor of the Senate when, as I pointed out earlier, there seems to be no urgency. I have been told it has been delayed and delayed and delayed. The reason it was delayed is because the construction operating firm changed the routes of the pipeline. They had one route mapped out--and no alternative routes--but didn't check to make sure it didn't violate State laws. Now they are wondering why it is taking so long. It is taking so long because they had to change the route. It is not the governmental process that is slowing this down, it is the fact that the proposers of this route did not have their ducks lined up in a row before they submitted the route that could be approved. We are still not sure about that.

    As I said earlier, for Congress to dictate where a pipeline should be is wrong. That is not our role. We should let the regulatory process, which is there to protect the public, go forward. It would also trample on States rights. There are some serious legal challenges pending in State courts as to the actions of a Governor dealing with a location issue. That should be resolved by the courts, and we are pretty close to having that ruling. It is very unclear to me what impact this legislation would have on States rights as it is currently being litigated in the State court. Why are we doing that? The delays have been caused because of the way this pipeline was suggested. The regulatory process that would protect the public safety is moving forward. Considering oil and gasoline prices at the pump there is no urgency. There are serious environmental risk issues.

    I understand the State Department report has been mentioned frequently. Look at the State Department report and look at what it is saying about the price for oil. The per barrel price of oil was a lot higher when they did that report. Lower costs have a major impact on what we are talking about here.

    I urge my colleagues to let the process go forward. I thank the President for spelling out his concerns and his desire to let the regulatory process reach its conclusion, let the State court decision go forward as to what the State believes is the right thing to be done here. I believe all of that will give us a much better process than us trying to substitute our judgment for what should be done through a regulatory process.

    I am going to close by quoting from one of the individuals, Ben Gotschall, from Nebraska, who has been very active on this issue. He said: The Cowboy Indian Alliance shows our cooperation and our working together in mutual respect. That shared bond proves that we pipeline fighters are not just a few angry landowners holding out, or environmentalists pushing a narrow agenda. We are people from all walks of life and include people who have been here the longest and know the land best.

    I think that is pretty instructive. This is a broad coalition that is concerned about the actions that are being contemplated in the Senate-- actions that would overrule landowner rights, actions that would take away State rights, actions that would shortcut regulatory process, actions that help private companies directly without taking into account the regulatory protections that are provided under law.

    It seems rather unusual that this would be the very first issue where we could work together in a bipartisan way to expand opportunities for energy in the United States. Clean energy produces a lot more jobs, and we could be talking about incentives so we could have a larger production of clean energy in the United States. Democrats and Republicans would clearly work together to come up with ways we could have more efficient use of energy.

    Democrats and Republicans could clearly work together in that regard. There are so many areas where we could work together and show the [[Page S48]] American people that we understand their frustration with Congress's failure to deal with many of the issues in the last Congress, but instead it looks as though we are picking an issue that is more about special interest than it is one that will help deal with an energy problem in the United States and has the potential to broaden our environmental challenges in the United States.

    For all of those reasons, I hope my colleagues will reject this approach and let us go back and work together to find a common way to help us deal with our environment.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Massachusetts.

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