After three weeks of debating and voting on amendments to a bill that would approve the Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. Senate is ready for a final vote. On Thursday, lawmakers are expected to green-light the controversial energy project, a 1,700-mile pipeline which would transport up to 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from Canada down to the Gulf Coast.
But the bill does not only provide authorization for the construction of Keystone XL. It also includes a number of extra provisions that came from approved amendments, some directly related to the pipeline and some not at all. They didn’t approve many — as of press time, the Senate had voted on roughly 40 amendments to the Keystone bill, only five of which have passed.
These are the approved amendments. (The Senate was still voting on amendments at the time this post was published, so we’ll update if any more get passed).
‘Climate change is real and not a hoax’
One of the most surprising measures passed during this whole process was proposed by climate hawk Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), which declared that “climate change is real and not a hoax.” It passed 98-1, with only one Republican voting no.
The catch, of course, was that the amendment did not include the apparently necessary caveat that says humans cause climate change. “Man cannot change climate,” the Senate’s most outspoken climate denier James Inhofe (R-OK) said, while announcing that he would both vote for and co-sponsor the amendment. “The hoax is that there are some people that are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful that they can change climate.”
Two more amendments came up that day that expressed the sense of the Senate that climate change was real and caused by humans. The Senate failed to pass both.
A ‘sense’ that tar sands companies should pay for oil spills
Put forth by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the Senate voted 75-23 to approve a “sense of the Senate” amendment that stated that all types of oil companies should be required to pay a per-barrel tax that goes into a government fund for oil spill cleanup. Currently, only some types of oil companies are required to do that — tar sands companies are excluded — a loophole that environmentalists say is especially harmful because tar sands oil is harder to clean up than conventional oil when it spills.
The amendment, however, is only a “sense of the Senate” amendment, meaning it doesn’t actually do anything to make tar sands companies contribute to the oil spill fund. The Senate could have approved two other amendments that actually did that, but they did not.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) had offered an amendment to effectively amend the tax code to say that products derived from tar sands should be subject to the Federal excise tax on petroleum. That amendment failed to pass, as did Sen. Ed Markey’s (D-MA) amendment that said the Keystone XL bill could not be effective until the tax code was changed.
A symbolic, but ultimately useless gesture for property rights
Another measure that passed was proposed by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who said his amendment would seeks to protect property owners from getting their land seized under eminent domain for the purpose of building the pipeline. Right now, landowners in Nebraska are being served with eminent domain papers from TransCanada, the Canadian company that wants to build the pipeline. Many landowners have filed lawsuits to prevent their property from being seized.
Cornyn’s amendment, however, 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.” As noted in the Daily Kos, this isn’t really a change, because eminent domain can be used for economic development, and the U.S. Constitution says land can be taken if the company provides “just compensation.”
Conversely, the Senate rejected an amendment that actually would have prevented TransCanada from seizing property owners’ land in Nebraska. Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) amendment would have ensured private property could not be seized under eminent domain for the financial gain of a foreign-owned company.
Two bipartisan boosts for energy efficiency
Two separate bipartisan amendments were adopted that promote and encourage energy efficiency in a few different sectors.
One, proposed by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mark Warner (D-VA), encourages making school buildings more efficient. It doesn’t create any federal programs — instead, it appoints the Department of Energy to promote existing programs. The amendment directs The DOE’s Office of Energy Efficient and Renewable Energy to promote and disseminate information about efficiency financing programs to schools that may not know about them.
The other is a slimmed-down version of the now-infamous Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill.
The original measure, sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH), would have sought to increase energy efficiency in residential, commercial, and federally-owned buildings and trained workers to be adept at working in energy-efficient commercial buildings. The version passed last week is similar, but not as broad as the original proposal, promoting energy efficiency in commercial buildings and federally managed properties.
The Senate is widely expected to pass the Keystone XL bill with its amendments tonight, and though the House has already approved its own version of the bill, reports are emerging that the lower house will take up the Senate’s version with its amendments next week. When it’s approved in the House, the bill will go to President Obama’s desk.
It’s worth noting, however, that none of the passed amendments will mean anything if the Keystone XL itself fails to become law. Even though both legislative bodies are expected to approve the bill, Obama has pledged to veto it. At the moment, neither the House or Senate has enough votes to override a veto.