Schatz Votes Against Keystone XL Pipeline

Keystone XL Would Threaten Public Health and Undermine Efforts to Combat Climate Change


Washington, D.C. – Today U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) voted against S.2880, a bill to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barrels per day of dirty tar sands oil bound for global markets from Canada to refineries along the Gulf Coast.  The U.S. Senate failed to reach the 60 vote threshold to advance the bill, voting 59-41. The House of Representatives passed their version of the bill on Friday by a vote of 252-161.

“Encouraging the production of Canadian tar sands – some of the dirtiest oil in the world – is not in America’s national interest,” Senator Schatz said.  “Congress should be focused on transitioning to clean energy and working on things that will have a positive impact on the economy rather than trying to approve an unnecessary pipeline.” 

In his floor speech, Senator Schatz cited four reasons for voting against the Keystone XL Pipeline:

  • The oil from tar sands is exceptionally dirty, and cannot be justified because of its negative impacts on health and climate change. The acquisition and use of oil from tar sands puts far more carbon pollution in the atmosphere than conventional oil.
  • The pipeline will have a direct, negative impact on the people and communities that live in its path. The 875 mile route of this proposed pipeline has over 50 river crossings, including the Yellowstone River in Montana, which is still recovering from a major crude oil leak by an ExxonMobil pipeline in 2011.
  • The pipeline would have a significant effect on the warming of our planet, increasing carbon pollution rather than reducing it.
  • The bill would circumvent existing executive branch review. Because the Keystone XL pipeline would cross international boundaries, the State Department is responsible for reviewing and deciding if a permit is in the national interest. The bill ignores this review process. This bill could potentially limit state and local siting decisions, as well as some legal challenges.

Full text of speech as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, I rise today to oppose Senate bill 2280, A Bill to Approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, and urge my colleagues to join me in voting no.

The Keystone XL pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil bound for global markets from Canada to refineries along the Gulf Coast.  It represents a massive endorsement of a fossil fuel economy when we should be focusing on transitioning to a clean energy economy.

There are many reasons to vote against this bill.  Since many of my colleagues have already spoken so ably on this topic, I will focus on the four reasons why I oppose this bill, and this pipeline.

The first reason that we must reject this bill is that the oil from tar sands is exceptionally dirty, and we don’t need it enough to justify its impacts on health and climate change.  Mining tar sands oil is nothing like setting up a rig and drilling a hole in the ground.  

Tar sands are dirty in terms of the land destroyed, dirty in terms of the water wasted and contaminated, and dirty in terms of the amount of energy needed to mine, transport, and process the oil.  Getting and using oil from tar sands puts far more carbon pollution in the atmosphere than conventional oil.

When tar sands are near the surface, they are dug up along with all of the surrounding earth, including the boreal forests that sit on top. These are forests that play a critical role in the health of the earth and remain largely untouched.  Losing them will contribute to global deforestation, further exacerbating climate change and affecting public health.

Tar sands are a mixture of sand, clay, water, and a gooey form of petroleum that resembles tar. Think of it as a mixture of dirt and molasses, and imagine trying to separate the two. If you think that sounds difficult, you’re right.

After being mined the thick, sludgy mixture that remains is transported to facilities that separate the oil using multiple water and energy intensive rinse-cycles. The water used in this process becomes contaminated with toxins and is no longer suitable for other uses.  Oil companies use massive amounts of water to mine the tar sands.  In 2011, tar sands mining in Canada used more water than the entire city of Toronto uses annually, representing a massive new strain on freshwater resources.

This is not the direction we want to go in.  We need to fight climate change and promote clean energy sources that don’t present a constant danger of harming our health, our drinking water, and our economy.  Why are we spending time today trying to approve something that quite literally takes us in the wrong direction?

This brings me to the second reason this pipeline must be rejected: it will have a direct, negative impact on the people and communities that live in its path.

The eight hundred and seventy five mile route of this proposed pipeline has over 50 river crossings, including the Yellowstone River in Montana, which is still recovering from a major crude oil leak by an ExxonMobil pipeline in 2011. That pipeline’s leak contaminated eighty five miles of the river and its floodplain -- placing an enormous burden on families and businesses that depend on it.

Pipelines transport oil, but they also leak.  Regularly.  The existing Keystone pipeline system for Canadian tar sands leaked 14 times during its first year of operation, with one incident leaking 21,000 gallons. In its environmental review, the State Department estimated that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would fail several times each year.

In 2010, a six-foot break in a pipeline carrying oil from tar sands spilled nearly one million gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. This was one of the largest inland oil spills in United States history and also one of the costliest, with clean-up costs totaling over one billion dollars. Households in the area were evacuated and told not to drink their water. Thirty-five miles of the river were contaminated and clean-up continued four years after the spill.

The really troubling thing about this spill, and any future spills coming from the Keystone XL pipeline, is that the companies who own the oil take advantage of a loophole that lets them avoid paying their fair share into the national Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.  This trust fund has been in place for nearly 30 years, and the money in it helps respond to and clean up oil spills.

Every barrel of oil produced or imported into the United States is charged 8 cents, and the money goes into the trust fund.  It’s like an insurance policy for events where companies are unable to pay for spill cleanup or in emergency response situations.  It makes sense, plain and simple.

What doesn’t make sense is that, due to this loophole, the oil from the tar sands in Canada is exempt from that 8-cent fee.  

So let me ask my colleagues this - why would you vote for a bill that circumvents executive review of an international pipeline carrying the dirtiest oil in the world - produced in Canada - headed mostly for world markets – a bill that does nothing to close a loophole exempting oil from tar sands from having to pay a small, common-sense fee - a fee that everyone else pays - meant for responding to and cleaning up spills?  How is that equitable?  How can this bill ask so little of the oil companies, while giving them so much?

A third reason we must reject this bill, and this pipeline, is the effect it will have on the warming of our planet.

The facts plainly show that we must reduce carbon pollution, not add to it, if we have any hope of preventing major changes to our way of life. We must go forward, not backwards. If we are serious about leaving our children a healthy world, we will vote no on this bill and reject this pipeline.

We know a majority of the public supports bold action to solve climate change. In recent years, no single issue related to fossil fuels and climate change has commanded the level of civic engagement as the Keystone XL pipeline. Countless rallies, public hearings in cities and towns along the proposed route, lawsuits, and debates in Congress reveal how much people care about stopping this pipeline.  In fact, the pipeline was booed so loudly when advertised on the jumbo-tron at a Nebraska Cornhusker’s football game that the university cut sponsorship ties with TransCanada – the owner of the pipeline.

Finally, Mr. President, this bill is flawed.  Not only because of what it seeks to do, but also because of how it seeks to do it. The bill would circumvent existing executive branch review. Because the Keystone XL pipeline would cross international boundaries, the State Department is responsible for reviewing and deciding if a permit is in the national interest. The bill before us today willfully ignores this review process and goes out of its way to rubber-stamp compliance with important environmental protections.

The way it is currently written, this bill could potentially limit state and local siting decisions, as well as some legal challenges. It attempts to approve a pipeline that doesn’t even have a finalized route, but does have lawsuits pending against it in the Nebraska Supreme Court.

Congress should focus on the things that will have a positive impact on the economy and jobs, rather than trying to circumvent executive review and local processes to approve an unnecessary pipeline.  We should address things of real national significance like immigration reform, spending bills, and defense reauthorization before the end of the year.  This bill, and this pipeline, doesn’t even crack the top 10 on our to-do list.

Rejecting this pipeline is exactly the type of stand the American people expect from their elected leaders.  If we do, our children will fondly remember the day the United States said ‘no’ to this pipeline and yes to clean energy and public health.

I’ll close with the following message to my colleagues: If you are not a climate denier, don’t vote like one. If you believe in protecting the health and well-being of everyday Americans and their children, vote like it.  This body is capable of doing the right thing, and today the right thing is to vote “no”.

I yield the floor.

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