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Senate Keystone XL Amendment Says Climate Change Real, But Gives No Cause

A 16-word amendment to the Keystone XL bill recognizing that climate change is real but not specifying a cause passed with nearly unanimous support in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. But five other amendments, including two that put the blame for climate change squarely on "human activities," foundered.

Amendment No. 29, introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) on Jan. 13, passed the Senate by a 98-1 vote. According to the Congressional Record, the amendment adds the words "it is the sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax."

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) cast the only no vote, while Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was not present. In a strange twist, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) -- the new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and a fervent climate change skeptic -- voted for it.

"We have to have this conversation," Whitehouse said in comments on the record. "It has to begin with as simple a proposition as this. Then, I hope if we can build off this if we can find a few Republican Senators who will say publicly that climate change is real. We can then go on to if it is real, let's have a conversation about what we do about it because recklessly continuing to dump megatons of carbon into the atmosphere every year is not a solution."

In her comments that followed, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said, "this is a good discussion and debate for us to be having as a body" and added that Whitehouse was "very passionate" about the climate change issue.

"I think the [Sen. Whitehouse] comes up once a week with his charts and a series of speeches that I think is meant to educate colleagues," Murkowski said. "I don't agree with all of it. I think that is a fair statement to say. But what is equally fair is that there is a care and concern for not only our country and our country's environment -- truly the public safety of our people, a care for our land, the stewardship we have as Americans -- but it goes well beyond our borders to that of our entire globe, our entire planet, and how we care for planet Earth and how we move forward responsibly...

"I clearly appreciate the need that we have in this body and in this country to be moving forward with technologies that allow us to have reduced emissions, to have a cleaner environment, but I also want to make sure we do so in a way that doesn't cripple our economy. So how we lead in this way, which I believe we must, while keeping our economy where it must be -- in the front and moving forward all the time -- is our great challenge."

But in a sign that the Republican-controlled Senate wasn't willing to go too far on climate change, an amendment introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) attributing the problem to human activity received only 50 votes, falling short of the 60 needed to be added to the Keystone XL bill.

Schatz's amendment (No. 58) cited the State Department's final supplemental environmental impact statement (FSEIS) on the Keystone XL pipeline. Had it been successful, language would have been added to the bill stating that "it is the sense of Congress that climate change is real, and human activity significantly contributes to climate change."

That same language would have been inserted had the Senate agreed to another amendment (No. 87) submitted by Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND). But the Hoeven amendment would have gone one step further -- adding language that State found the pipeline would result in 28-42% fewer annual greenhouse gas emissions. In the end, the amendment fell one vote short, 59-40.

"Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil prices, oil sands supply costs, transport costs, and supply-demand scenarios," the Hoeven amendment said, taking a quote from the FSEIS.

Three other amendments failed to get 60 votes:

  • No. 33, by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) -- changing language of the Endangered Species Act, failed by a 54-45 vote;
  • No. 41, by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) -- on setting standards for coal refuse power plants, failed by a 54-45 vote; and
  • No. 69, by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) -- on the regulation of petroleum coke as a hazardous waste, failed by a 41-58 vote.

So far, the Senate has added only two amendments to its Keystone XL bill, S-1. An amendment calling for energy efficiency measures in federal and other buildings, among other things, was agreed to on Tuesday (see Shale Daily, Jan. 20).

S-1 would authorize TransCanada Corp. to construct and operate the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast and transport 830,000 b/d to U.S. refineries, including 100,000 b/d from the Bakken Shale (see Shale Daily, May 7, 2012). The House has already given overwhelming support to its version of the bill authorizing the pipeline, despite a veto threat by President Obama (see Shale Daily, Jan. 9; Jan. 6).

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