January 14, 2015

Time to Wake Up: Let’s Reject the Keystone Pipeline

As delivered on the Senate floor

Thank you, Mr. President, with all of the issues are country faces, here we are debating a Canadian pipeline, what are we doing here?  A new majority has taken over the Senate, and their first bill—their opening gambit—is the Keystone pipeline?  What is going on?

Is it about jobs?   There has been an awful lot of talk about jobs in the last few days.  But this opening gambit both obviously and demonstrably has nothing to do with jobs. 

If this were about jobs, bring up instead the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill, the bipartisan bill that the Republicans spiked last year.  That bill has been estimated to produce nearly 200,000 jobs, more than quadruple the 42,000 jobs supported by the construction of the pipeline.  

If this were about jobs, bring up the highway bill which came out of EPW unanimously last year.  That bill was estimated to support 3 million jobs a year, seventy times, seven, zero, the number of jobs from Keystone.  Forty-two thousand is a pittance compared to that.

Right now, the economy is adding over 70,000 jobs every week.  In the three weeks that we’ll argue about this bill, we’ll add five times as many jobs as it provides. We match Keystone in just four average days of job growth, but yet, we’re going to spend three weeks on this?

If this were really about jobs, bring up an infrastructure bill, the kind Republicans relentlessly stymied when they were in the minority.  Set up an infrastructure fund.  God knows, wherever you look, American infrastructure is crumbling.  Schools, airports, trains, water, health information infrastructure, smart grids, broadband, all are yearning for activity.  We could do really big things on jobs.  You get 13,000 jobs on average for every billion dollars spent on infrastructure, and we need the infrastructure.  But instead we’re doing this.

So it’s definitely not about jobs.

Is it about the merits of the pipeline?  Hardly.  With oil prices at $50 per barrel it’s not even clear the pipeline is viable.  The State Department calculated that crude oil prices below $75 per barrel would limit development of tar sands crude.  According to a recent report from the Canadian Energy Research Institute, due to a steep increase in production costs, new tar sands projects require crude prices of at least $85 per barrel to break even.  Well, we’re around 50 dollars per barrel, and the U.S. Energy Information Agency predicts that crude oil prices will average below $65 well into 2015. 

Shell, Total, and Statoil have all cancelled or postponed major tar sands expansion projects.  Southern Pacific Resources has nearly gone broke transporting heavy crude to the Gulf by rail.  The Canexus terminal in Alberta has run far below capacity, has been plagued by logistical problems, has lost contracts with developers, and has been put up for sale.  At 50 dollars per barrel, this could already be a zombie pipeline—dead man walking.

Moreover, Mr. President, Keystone XL would be an environmental disaster, notwithstanding the talking points to the contrary, the facts are otherwise. As a source of carbon pollution alone, it will produce the equivalent of as many as 6 million added cars on our roads for fifty years.   That’s enough added carbon pollution to erase 70 percent of the carbon reductions from the recent motor vehicle emission standards that the automobile companies agreed to. 

And the cost of that carbon pollution adds up.  Using the Obama Administration’s estimates of the social cost of carbon, the economic damage from the Keystone Pipeline of those emissions will amount to $128 billion in harm over the lifetime of the project.  These are enormous costs, ones we will pay as parched farmland, as harms to our health, as flooded businesses and homes.

So it’s not really about jobs, and it’s not really about the merits of the pipeline.

Unfortunately, it’s not even a venue, an opening, for a serious discussion about climate change, for a conservation, I’m sorry, a conversation about what carbon pollution is doing to our atmosphere and oceans.  In all of last week’s conversation about this Keystone pipeline tar sands bill, the Republican mentions of climate change numbered exactly one:  and that was only when Chairman Murkowski summarized testimony submitted to her Energy Committee by an opponent of the pipeline included a discussion of climate change.  She used to the term describing the witness testimony. One reference to a Democratic witness’s committee testimony.  That’s it. Zero serious conversation.

We are long past time for a serious bipartisan conversation about carbon pollution and climate change.  What a great thing it would be if part of the new majority’s new responsibility was just to take an honest look at those issues. 

But for sure, this isn’t that.  Republicans remain politically incapable of addressing climate change. Forget addressing climate change, Republicans remain politically incapable of even discussing it.

So it’s not jobs, it’s not the merits of the pipeline, it’s not an opening on carbon pollution and climate, and the president has already told us he’s going to veto the bill. 

So what the heck are we doing here? 

I’ll tell you what I think we’re doing here, and I think the facts support this conclusion.  

What you have to understand, to understand what’s going on here, is that the Republican Party has become the political wing of the fossil fuel industry.  There has always been a trend of this within the Republican Party, but since the Republican appointees on the Supreme Court gave the fossil fuel industry the great, fat, juicy gift of its Citizens United decision, fossil fuel industry control over the Republican Party in Congress has become near-absolute. 

The fossil fuel industry spent nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars over the last two years on lobbying and direct and third-party campaign contributions, according to the Center for American Process, Progress.  And, that’s just what’s reported!  That doesn’t even count the anonymous dark-money dollars that is preferred by many special-interest donors.  And it certainly doesn’t include the pungent fact that even if the special-interest never spends the money, just quiet, private, back-room threats of attack ads can influence political behavior.

We can argue this point more another day. I’ve talked about it frequently and I think I’ve made the case pretty convincingly in other “Time to Wake Up” speeches that the evidence points to this as the present state of affairs, within the Republican Party. So for purposes of this discussion, take it as my premise, anyway, that the Republican Party in Congress is now effectively the political wing of the fossil fuel industry.

That premise clarifies what’s happening here:  the fossil fuel industry has a shiny new Republican Senate majority, and it wants to take it out for a spin. It wants to take its new Republican-controlled Congress out for a spin.  That’s what this Keystone opening gambit is all about.  This is somewhere between performance art, show of obedience, and a show of force. 

Well, fine.  Take us out for a spin.  Have your fun.

But the laws of nature that turn carbon pollution into climate change and into ocean acidification aren’t going away.  God laid down those laws, and they are not subject to repeal by man. Ignore them all you want, worship at the altar of the fossil fuel Ba’al all you want, but there will be a price to pay for negligence and inaction. 

It is truly time for this body to wake up.

I yield the Floor.