Senate Democrats Plan Climate Amendment for Keystone to Put Republicans on Record

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By Ari Natter

Jan. 9 — Senate Democrats are planning to use a vote on legislation that would deem the Keystone pipeline approved to put their Republican counterparts on the record about climate change and global warming.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) offered a preview of the fight expected to come when the Senate takes up the bill (S. 1) in earnest Monday when he offered a two-page amendment stating it's the “sense of Congress” that climate change is real and caused by human activities.

“It is the sense of Congress that Congress is in agreement with the opinion of virtually the entire worldwide scientific community and a growing number of top national security experts [and] economists,” the amendment said.

The fight comes as opponents of the legislation, which would approve the $8 billion pipeline to carry crude from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the Gulf Coast, seek to cast supporters of the project as anti-environment, arguing that oil produced from tar sands creates more carbon emissions than oil from conventional sources.

“I am very worried about the United States Congress turning its back on science,” Sanders said during a Jan. 8 meeting of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “Turning its back on those people that tell us we have to cut carbon emissions rather than give a green light for the exploration and production for some of the dirtiest oil on this planet.”

Ultimately, the committee voted 13-9, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joining all of his Republican colleagues on the committee to table the amendment, which also states climate change has caused “devastating ” problems and that it is “imperative” the U.S. “transform its energy system away from fossil fuels” and toward energy efficiency and clean energy.

“I do think this will be part of the bigger and broader debate we will have when the measure reaches the floor,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the committee's chairman, said.

In an interview Jan. 9, Sanders said he plans to offer the amendment, adding “I hope and expect it will get a vote.”

No Significant Impact Expected 

For their part, Republican supporters of the bill, such as its author, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), point to the State Department's own analysis of the bill which found that construction of the 1,179-mile pipeline would increase emissions by 27.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year over what a less-carbon intensive type of oil would release.

“This project will have no significant environmentally impact,” Hoeven said. “If you don't build the pipeline, this oil would be transported to China, where it would have higher emissions because it would be transported across the ocean by tanker.”

The pipeline, first proposed by Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. in 2008, would transport up to 830,000 barrels per day of crude derived from oil sands in Alberta and shale oil produced in North Dakota and Montana to a market hub in Nebraska for further delivery to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.

However, the White House has said it would veto the legislation because it would circumvent an ongoing review of the project being conducted by the State Department required because the pipeline crosses an international boundary.

Democrats' Strategy 

Still, the Senate plans to spend weeks debating the legislation—with the first vote scheduled for Monday—under an open amendment process, which Democrats plan to use to their advantage.

Other amendments that may be offered include measures barring the export of oil and refined products from the pipeline and a provision that would tie the project to increased clean energy investment.

“The strategy is to try and find ways to draw a contrast between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to energy policy,” Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), told Bloomberg BNA. “This is the first of many debates to come.”

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To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at

Sanders amendment is available at