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John H.
Republican ND

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  • Keystone XL Pipeline

    by Senator John Hoeven

    Posted on 2015-01-21

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    HOEVEN. Mr. President, I certainly would welcome that opportunity and look forward to joining the Senator from Illinois in that dialogue.

    Mr. DURBIN. I thank the Senator from North Dakota and warn him that we are getting perilously close to a Senate debate, which almost never happens. So we want to alert all the news bureaus that this might even turn into a debate on the floor of the Senate.

    [[Page S308]] This is Senate bill 1. It is the highest priority of the Senate Republican majority. It is their first bill in the majority. They decided their first bill would be the Keystone XL Pipeline bill. The Keystone XL Pipeline is not owned by an American company; it is owned by a Canadian company, is my understanding, TransCanada. What they are doing is shipping tar sands from Canada--at least it is proposed here-- into the United States, across the Midwest, to be refined in Texas and then turned into refined oil products, which could include, of course, gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, and other things.

    Yesterday we had two votes on the floor of the Senate about this pipeline and what it is going to produce, and they were interesting votes.

    In the first vote we said: Well, if we are going to have this pipeline come into the United States of America and bring Canadian tar sands to be refined, then whatever oil it produces, the products it produces, should be used in America to help Americans reduce the cost of gasoline, to make it cheaper for manufacturing concerns to use their products.

    The Republicans rejected that notion that the oil and products produced by the Keystone XL Pipeline would be used in America. They rejected that. I think the vote was 57 to 42. Three or four Democrats joined them, but all of the Republicans, if I am not mistaken, voted to say the products coming out of this pipeline wouldn't be used in America.

    Then we offered a second amendment. The second amendment said: Well, if we are going to build this pipeline--and a lot has been said about this being the Keystone jobs bill--shouldn't we use American steel, use American products to build it so that it truly does create jobs in the steel industry and demand for steel products? The Republicans rejected that amendment as well. So their idea of a Keystone jobs pipeline is a pipeline that produces a product that won't be sold in America and a pipeline that is built with foreign steel. That is their idea of an American jobs bill? There is also another aspect of this, on which I have introduced an amendment. There is a dirty little secret about this Keystone XL Pipeline which we will get to vote on today. This is what it comes down to. For the longest time nobody looked at Canadian tar sands as a viable source of a product that could be refined into gasoline or diesel fuel. The reason it was never considered viable was the price of a barrel of oil was too low. They knew that in these tar sands up in Canada, there was the potential of drawing oil after they went through a lengthy and expensive process, and they couldn't afford it until the price of oil started knocking on the door of $80, $90 and $100, and then Canadian tar sands became viable. They could afford to refine the product and make some money. And that is what happened.

    The Canadian tar sands were developed in Alberta, and they were shipped to the United States and other places to be refined. In fact, the first Keystone pipeline, I would argue--although it went by a different name--actually went to Illinois. It went to Wood River, IL, to the Conoco refinery, and I have seen it. I have seen the refinery since it has been receiving these tar sands.

    The reason why it is more expensive to use Canadian tar sands to produce oil products is you have to take out the tar sands. That is a viscous, nasty product that has to be dealt with with extraordinary refining capacity, which they developed at Wood River, what is now the Phillips refinery. I have seen it.

    The dirty little secret about this process is that after they have taken off the worst parts of it--the parts that are not really economically valuable to most--they have to do something with it, and it turns out that in this process they generate huge amounts of what is known as petcoke. Petcoke is the byproduct of Canadian tar sands. Petcoke is what is left over after they take what is valuable out of Canadian tar sands. And there is a lot of it.

    Proponents of the bill would like to tell you the pipeline won't have any harmful environmental impact, but a lot of communities across America know better--Detroit, Chicago, and Long Beach, CA, for three. These communities have seen what happens when big refineries near their homes start processing large amounts of Canadian tar sands.

    Let me show an illustration. This is from the city of Chicago--the city of Chicago. This is a Chicago neighborhood. If you didn't know better, you would assume it is someplace in a remote area. It is not. This Chicago neighborhood looks an awful lot like Little Rock, AR; Fargo, North Dakota, except take a look at what is next door to these little bungalows and homes. This is a petcoke dumpsite.

    The British Petroleum refinery receives Canadian tar sands in Whiting, IN, refines them, and the leftover product--this petcoke sludge--is shipped over to the city of Chicago, where it is deposited in piles that are three- and four-stories high. I have seen them.

    The residents started noticing these mountain-like piles of petcoke appearing right over the train tracks from their homes and at a local baseball field after the Whiting refinery began processing tar sands. You might imagine that on windy days, giant clouds of petcoke dust swirl above these storage piles and cover the neighborhoods. I have seen them. I have visited them. So these working families, when the wind is blowing in their direction, end up with this petcoke blowing into their homes, into the lungs of their children.

    Often, the dust from these petcoke piles means that people living in the southeastern part of Chicago are forced to breathe dirty air that one organization--National Nurses United--says causes severe health threats. You see, petcoke--this product from Canadian tar sands-- contains heavy metals such as nickel, vanadium, and selenium. Nickel causes cancer. Chronic exposure to nickel can cause neurological and developmental defects among children. You can see this nasty petcoke on the windowsills and buildings around this neighborhood, but you can't see it in the lungs of the children until it is too late.

    The National Institute For Occupational Safety and Health warns that inhaling nickel-laced dust increases your risk for lung cancer and fibrosis.

    Petcoke dust also contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which have been linked to cancer as well. And it is not just because the chemical composition of petcoke is toxic; the dust particles themselves are extremely dangerous. When you inhale petcoke, that dust can get trapped in your lungs, causing respiratory problems. Once in the lungs, these tiny particles can aggravate asthma, leading to premature death in people with heart or lung disease, and cause heart attacks.

    Yesterday I made the point that when I visit schools across my State to ask how many students in the classroom know someone who has asthma, without fail, rural or urban schools, half the hands go up. I invite my colleagues to do the same. So anything we do to aggravate this asthma threat we face is something we ought to think about very carefully. Some safety documents even note that long-term exposure to petcoke might cause damage to the lung, liver, and kidney.

    Because of petcoke dust, the city of Chicago has advised residents in this neighborhood and around it to limit the time they are outdoors. In addition, Mayor Emanuel and the city are working with residents and local environmental organizations to limit the amount of petcoke that can be stored in the city and to require that it be enclosed in facilities that would protect it from blowing around.

    This isn't the first city in America to face this danger from Canadian tar sands, which will be transported, if built, by the Keystone XL Pipeline. The city of Detroit, shipping ports near Los Angeles, they have dealt with petcoke piles too. We need to do more.

    Many of these cities have had to act because for years petcoke has been exempt from regulation under many Federal environmental laws, and it has not been forced to comply with Federal cleanup standards.

    The Federal Government's views on the official side of the ledger-- the regulatory side of the ledger is that these petcoke piles are benign, not to be worried about. The health information tells us they are wrong.

    That is why I proposed an amendment to end petcoke's exemptions and require the EPA and Department of Transportation to promulgate rules on how to store and transport petcoke to protect public and ecological health. It [[Page S309]] closes the environmental loophole for petcoke.

    My amendment would require we make these changes before construction is allowed to begin on this pipeline. It is important because tar sands transported by the Keystone XL Pipeline--this Canadian company--will dramatically increase the amount of petcoke produced in this country.

    In the year 2013 the United States produced a record amount of 57.5 million metric tons of petcoke.

    According to the environmental impact statement for the Keystone XL Pipeline, the No. 1 priority of the Senate Republican majority, this pipeline will produce over 15,400 metric tons of petcoke every day.

    Under current law all of this new petcoke would continue to be shipped to local communities for storage and disposal in the same large open piles we see in this photograph in Chicago. That isn't right. We in Congress should deal with the acres of petcoke piles that are already out there before we build a pipeline that will create 15,400 metric tons of it a day. Incidentally, the BP refinery that has created this mess is generating 6,000 tons a day. More than twice as much will come out of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the No. 1 Republican Senate majority issue, S. 1, Keystone XL Pipeline, Canadian company, 35 permanent jobs but 15,400 metric tons of petcoke every single day somewhere in America.

    I hope my colleagues will support this amendment to treat petcoke for what it is. It is a dangerous byproduct that shouldn't be stored in open-air piles near neighborhoods, ballparks, children, and elderly people.

    End the regulatory loophole for petcoke and establish reasonable guidelines for handling this dangerous material. This would help ensure that clean air and clean water is something everyone can enjoy--even if you happen to have the bad luck of living in a neighborhood near a petcoke dump site such as this one near the city of Chicago.

    I see the Senator from Minnesota is seeking recognition. I ask unanimous consent for the Senator from North Dakota and myself to enter into a 3-minute dialogue so we don't hold up my friend from Minnesota.

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

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