As expected, a bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline sailed through the House of Representatives for the tenth time on Friday. The bill is predicted to pass the Senate next week, but Republicans may not have enough votes to override the veto Obama has promised.
On Wednesday we got a preview of the Senate debate when the Energy and Natural Resources Committee met to vote on the bill. Before the vote, which passed 13-9, Democrats used the opportunity to express their environmental concerns, question the bill’s job-creation numbers and propose that the steel piping must be American-made. Republicans touted the pipeline as an economy-boosting job creator that will give the US energy independence. The most striking moments came when the microphone went to Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who eloquently summed up the arguments against building a tar sands pipeline directly through the United States.
Taking the environmental angle, Sen. Bernie Sanders implored his fellow senators to think of their grandchildren, who will one day ask, “What were you doing? Did you not hear what the scientific community all over the world was saying?”
Later in the hearing, Sen. Sanders proposed a four-part amendment officially recognizing the following:
“One, climate change is real. Two, climate change is caused by human activity. Three, climate change has already caused devastating problems in the United States and around the world. And, four, it is imperative the United States transform its energy system away from fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the lone committee Democrat in favor of the pipeline, responded that while he agrees with parts one, two and three, “the fourth one’s a killer, Bernie.” Eventually, Sanders’ amendment was tabled.
When Sen. Warren had a chance to speak, she immediately challenged: “I want to to know why the pipeline is the very first, number one item on the agenda in this new Congress. Who does this new Republic Congress work for? Foreign oil companies or the American people?”
Here’s a rundown of some other memorable statements from senators on both sides of the aisle:
1. Using what has become something of a go-to pro-pipeline argument, Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) questioned why the bill has been stalled in Congress for six years, when “Americans won World War II in a shorter amount of time.”
2. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) described the destruction caused by a 2010 tar sand spill in her home state’s Kalamazoo River: “We still can’t fish. People along the river can’t use their property, their backyards. This is going to take tens of years to clean up.”
3. Committee Chairperson Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) stated that although she believes in climate change, I don’t agree that all the changes are necessarily due solely to human activity.” She welcomed her fellow senators to visit the Permafrost Tunnel in Alaska, to view evidence of long-term climatic shifts.
4. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) is worried about precedent: “My fear is that by making tar sands the linchpin of American energy policy, we are literally locking ourselves into a policy that fully embraces energy imports and extremely high levels of relative carbon pollution for as long as 50 years. All at a time when we should have a national policy focused on domestic production and ever cleaner fuel sources. A vote to approve Keystone sends the signal that carbon pollution and climate change are not serious economic concerns.”
5. Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) said the pipeline will keep electricity rates low in rural Montana: “As I was traveling one day to a rural co-op in Glasgow, Montana, there in my pickup, show up in my jeans and my jacket, they told me that if the Keystone pipeline’s approved, electric rate for their co-op will remain flat for the next 10 years. Why? Because they will supply electricity to the pump stations in the pipeline.”
6. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) spoke out for the “hundreds of communities that are home to millions of people” along the pipeline’s path. “These communities rely on the surrounding land for clean water. They also rely on the land for grazing, cattle and other economic activities … We owe it to the people and communities in this region to follow the process that’s been set in law to proceed. And that is the presidential review process … This bill short-circuits that process.”
7. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) argued that the pipeline could curb US dependence on Saudi Arabian and Venezuelan oil. “We already buy 2.5 million barrels a day from Canada … We’re being told right now that if we don’t build this line, that the price will go up. I’ve never — I don’t understand economics. I understand one thing. Security of our nation depends on us having the ability to have control of our own destiny.”
8. Sen. Angus King (I-ME) noted that the bill is “peculiar,” explaining: “I don’t know if I’ve ever recalled seeing a bill in any legislature that starts with the name of a particular company that’s the beneficiary … We’re supposed to be establishing policy here, not issuing building permits to individual companies. You know, why not write a bill to give money to Apple Computer?” King also noted that the US added 20,000 construction jobs in November, “and this project is talking about 4,000 jobs over the course of two years. They’re important jobs, absolutely, but let’s put them in the context of the overall national economy. Permanent jobs: 35. A new McDonald’s in Fargo, North Dakota, would add more than 35 jobs.”