After winning back majority control in November's elections, Republicans in the U.S. Senate will begin the new congressional session on Tuesday by introducing a bill calling for the immediate approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
"What’s clear with the upcoming vote on Keystone XL is that Congress is now run by oil-soaked politicians who are simply doing the bidding of Big Oil." —David Turnbull, Oil Change International
As the Guardian reports:
Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who is the incoming head of the Senate energy committee, planned to introduce the bill on Tuesday, with hearings scheduled for Wednesday and a vote on the floor as early as next week, spokesman Robert Dillon said.
Murkowski’s bill would bypass the State Department, which has authority over the Keystone project, and grant immediate approval to TransCanada Corporation to “construct, connect, operate, and maintain the pipeline”.
The legislation faces challenges from Republicans as well as Democrats pushing to attach various riders to the bill.
Expressing their scorn for both the bill itself and the mindset guiding the Republicans, the climate action group 350.org took to Twitter to say:
Congress' top priority is apparently building Keystone XL. Are they really out of ideas on Day 1? Going to be a long 2 years. #noKXL— 350 dot org (@350) January 5, 2015
Though Obama is sure to veto the bill, Democratic Senators this week have tried to play both sides of the ball. On one side, they indicate they have the votes to sustain a presidential veto. But on the other, as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has outlined, the Democrats will also put forth a series of amendments they argue would make the fossil fuel project, if it does goes forward, more politically palatable.
As Politico summarized on Monday, the Democratic amendments would:
— Ban the export of oil transported through the pipeline, language that Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has frequently floated in both chambers of Congress;
— Require U.S.-produced iron, steel and manufactured goods “to be used for the pipeline construction, connection, operation, and maintenance.” It’s another familiar measure that senators like Markey and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have offered.
— Require “that for every job created by the pipeline, an equal or greater amount of jobs is created through clean energy investments.” Schumer and Stabenow highlight legislation from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that would cut the price of home solar units through rebates.
— Restore funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to levels authorized in the 2009 economic stimulus bill under the condition that seniors and veterans get first priority.
— Prohibit a state from permitting a foreign corporation to invoke eminent domain.
Groups opposed to the pipeline, however, told Common Dreams that even as they recognize the bipartisan politics now at play, there are no simply no amendments added or so-called "improvements" made to the bill which would justify unleashing the amount of climate and environmental damage the pipeline represents.
"No amount of lipstick will make us want to kiss that pig... Nothing Congress adds to a Keystone bill will make it better." —Jane Kleeb, Bold NebraskaDavid Turnbull, campaigns director at Oil Change International, said, "Amendments on a bill that ultimately intends to force construction of the Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline would be like putting lipstick on a pig, as the saying goes. We cannot foresee any amendments that would make a bill forcing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline acceptable to us."
And Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, didn't need any prompting to also characterize the Democratic amendments as lipstick on a pig. "And no amount of lipstick will make us want to kiss that pig," Kleeb said. "Nothing Congress adds to a Keystone bill will make it better."
She added, "I understand why the Democrats want to use a high profile moment to lift up issues like renewable energy and eminent domain abuse." Kleeb was acknowledging what many analysts have pointed out, that the minority Democrats—already with an eye toward 2016—are using their amendments to get GOP members on the record opposing job creation, green energy initiatives, and help for low-income families.
However, she added, "Our families are not bargaining chips. We are not horse traders." Kleeb said that she and Bold Nebraska members would continue to stand with President Obama so long as he continues to move in the direction of rejecting "Keystone XL once and for all."
Jamie Henn, communications director for 350.org, told Common Dreams that most of what the Democrats in the Senate are doing amounts to nothing more than political theater. Henn said his group would be more worried if the Democrats were planning on attaching major amendments, like the energy efficiency package co-sponsored last year by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). So far, substantial bills which actually have broad support among Democrats, have not been put forth as riders. Regardless, said Henn, "There's not enough sheep's clothing in the world to hide this wolf. McConnell could throw in a new set of golf clubs and President Obama would still veto the bill."
Turnbull said the upcoming votes over Keystone XL in both the Senate and the House speak volumes about who now controls Congress.
"What’s clear with the upcoming vote on Keystone XL is that Congress is now run by oil-soaked politicians who are simply doing the bidding of Big Oil. Senators that actually care about healthy communities and a safe climate should vote against the Keystone XL pipeline bill and do what they can to shine a light on the ways in which Big Oil is dictating our democracy. It’s time to expose the lies and hypocrisy inherent in misleading jobs and energy security claims. We encourage Senators to speak out against dirty energy and Big Oil politics and for clean water, a safe climate and the interests of the American people."
In a column on Tuesday, Guardian environmental correspondent Suzanne Golden explores how the contentious fight over Keystone XL has become a political battle fueled by myths and misinformation disseminated by the fossil fuel industry and its backers. "Over the past six-plus years," she writes, "Keystone has become a stand-in for a broader debate about climate change. It’s also the subject of much myth-making about climate change and the economy."
That fight, and those persistent mythologies, are about to take center stage in the U.S. Congress. As for critics of the project like Henn, many are actually looking forward to the Senate floor debate on Murkowski's bill.
"The more people get the facts about this project, the more they oppose it," he said. "This push by Senate Republicans will only strengthen President Obama's resolve to reject the pipeline once and for all. But we're not taking any chances—we'll be keeping phone lines in DC ringing off the hook over the coming weeks to make sure Senators and the President know that there is major opposition to this project."