Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Keystone Pipeline

As I have mentioned before, I receive a weekly summary of all the high profile votes cast in the United States Congress.  The last few weeks have featured a number of votes related to the Keystone Pipeline, a topic upon which I recently commented.

To begin, the Senate passed a bill by a 62-36 vote (there were a few abstainers) that would immediately allow TransCanada to construct, connect, operate and maintain the pipeline, including any revision to the route within Nebraska.  It also would consider the January 2014 environmental impact statement issued by the State Department sufficient to satisfy all requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.  

At this point a number of amendments to the bill were put to vote, amendments generally sponsored by Democrats.  One such amendment expressed the sense of the Senate that climate change is real.  This amendment was voted in favor of, overwhelmingly.  What's that you say, the Senate, a GOP majority body voted almost unanimously that climate change is real?  Finally, sanity has prevailed.  But alas, a different amendment that added the phrase "and that human activity significantly contributes to it" was also brought to the floor.  It also passed, 50-49 with 1 not voting, but by unanimous consent the Senate agreed to raise the requirement for adoption of this amendment to 60 votes.  Ah, so close to the promised land.

Two quick questions here.  One, why is the State Department issuing an environmental impact statement as opposed to the federal agencies empowered to protect our environment?  Could it be because the state department might look favorably on a project that continues to benefit the fossil fuel industry while the EPA might consider potential risk to our water supply?  Hmm.

Also, what happened to the 49 Senators who voted that human activity is contributing to climate change, but then voted to require 60 votes to pass a bill recognizing our complicity?  I guess they figure then can say they voted for it without mentioning the second part.  Can you say spineless?

Then there is the amendment that also expresses the sense that climate change is real, that human activity is partly to blame, and that we should promote an overhaul to our energy system away from fossil fuels towards sustainable energy.  This amendment, sponsored by Senator Sanders from Vermont was defeated 56-42, 2 not voting. 

Two more quick questions.  Isn't is obvious that we need to continue to experiment with, invest in and encourage the development of cleaner energy sources?  That doesn't mean we have to stop all the government subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.  Or stop all the drilling in the earth and offshore.  Or even stop poking little holes in the ground and injecting chemicals.  In just means that we recognize the need to think towards the future, think about harnessing that bright ball in the sky that will be shining there for quite some time.  But, I guess if a Senator votes in such a way, even if it is to make the point that we will need to someday get away from fossil fuels, said Senator risks the ire of the Koch brothers, et all, and the chance that a different fossil fuel industry shill will have a Senate seat purchased for them at the next election.

Second, who is not voting?  If my Senator was abstaining from any of these votes, they better be mostly dead.  I would be curious as to what their notes from mommy said as to why they were absent.

Two other amendments were offered that would have addressed the current law that exempts tar sands companies from paying a per-barrel tax that goes into a government fund for oil spill cleanup. This loophole is especially relevant because tar sands oil is harder to clean up than conventional oil when it spills.  TransCanada of course, currently benefits from that loophole.  But, sadly, both were defeated.

All the benefits, none of the responsibility.  Socialism for business is certainly alive and well.

Strangely, a generally favorite tea party issue, eminent domain, was addressed.  But, as usual, the politics of "I voted to protect rights even though my vote was meaningless" raised its ugly head. 
A GOP sponsored amendment which claimed to protect property owners from having their land seized (right now, landowners in Nebraska are being served with eminent domain papers from
TransCanada) was passed, but it appears that the amendment likely won’t do much to protect those property owners from getting their land taken. The language of the amendment states that the U.S. must “ensure private property is protected as guaranteed by the United States Constitution.” But,  eminent domain can be used for economic development, and the U.S. Constitution says land can be taken if the company provides “just compensation.”  I would bet dollars to donuts that the company will meet the requirements of just compensation; they will probably even use it as a PR spin and claim they overpaid.  Strangely, the Senate rejected an amendment that actually would have prevented TransCanada from seizing property owners’ land in Nebraska by making it law that private property could not be seized under eminent domain for the financial gain of a foreign-owned company.  Remember, TransCanada is the name.  I imagine that vote won't be part of any GOP campaign anytime soon.

So, what do we learn from this?  The GOP loves to talk citizen rights except when a large company is looking to trample them.  And the DEMS love the environment until it gets in the way of business.
The good news, of course, is that some temp jobs will be created.  Unless someone deep in the heart of Arabia leeks information that a terrorist strike against the pipeline is in the works.  Then, we will have to guard every inch of that pipeline.  Do you think TransCanada will pay for the guards?  Or will that be just another "expense" that the fossil fuel industry passes along to the American taxpayer?

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