Thursday, January 29, 2015

10 Senate Ds Think Drillers Should Be Able to Inject Whatever the Frack They Want into Your Water

Last night, I reported on the 12 amendments that the Senate voted on in its latest Keystone vote-a-thon.  However, I want to focus on one in particular: Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)'s amendment to close the Halliburton loophole.

So what is the Halliburton loophole?

First of all, it comes from the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which was a corporate giveaway to Big Energy:
The bill exempts oil and gas industries from some clean-water laws, streamlines permits for oil wells and power lines on public lands, and helps the hydropower industry appeal environmental restrictions. One obscure provision would repeal a Depression-era law that has prevented consolidation of public utilities, potentially transforming the nation's electricity markets.

It also includes an estimated $85 billion worth of subsidies and tax breaks for most forms of energy -- including oil and gas, "clean coal," ethanol, electricity, and solar and wind power. The nuclear industry got subsidies for research, waste reprocessing, construction, operation and even decommission. The petroleum industry got new incentives to drill in the Gulf of Mexico -- as if $60-a-barrel oil wasn't enough of an incentive. The already-subsidized ethanol industry got a federal mandate that will nearly double its output by 2012 -- as well as new subsidies to develop ethanol from other sources.
The Halliburton Loophole, alluded to in the passage above, is the term for the provision that exempted gas drilling and extraction from requirements in the underground injection control (UIC) program of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Injecting carcinogens into the ground during fracking? Don't ask. Don't tell. 
 
It got the name "Halliburton Loophole" because it is widely viewed as the effort of former Halliburton CEO who happened to occupy the vice presidency.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the roll call votes for the Senate and House back then to see how the Senators still with us today voted.

Four Democrats still in the Senate and one who moved up from the House voted for the Energy Policy Act:

Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Tom Udall (D-NM)

9 Democrats still in the Senate and 5 Democrats (plus 1 Independent) who moved up from the House voted against the Energy Policy Act:

Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Pat Leahy (D-VT)
Ed Markey (D-MA)
Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
Patty Murray (D-WA)
Bill Nelson (D-FL)
Jack Reed (D-RI)
Harry Reid (D-NV)
Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)

President Barack Obama voted for it as a senator from Illinois, whereas Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had all voted against it as the senators from Delaware, Massachusetts, and New York, respectively.

Now back to the present.


Here's how Kirsten Gillibrand described her amendment, the one of three she offered to receive a vote:
Amendment 48, to remove the Halliburton loophole from the Safe Drinking Water Act, and finally require gas storage and gas drilling companies to comply with the clean water laws of the United States. Every other energy industry already has to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act, and this amendment would finally hold the gas industry to the same environmental and public health standards as everyone else.
It finally got a vote last night, and as expected, it failed: 35 to 63
 
Ten Democrats joined with Republicans in voting against it:
Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
Martin Heinrich (D-NM)
Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
Tim Kaine (D-VA)
Joe Manchin (D-WV)
Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
Jon Tester (D-MT)
Tom Udall (D-NM)
Mark Warner (D-VA)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Senate Voted on 12 More Keystone Amendments. Did Any of Them Pass?

Today, the Senate voted on 12 more amendments to the S. 1, the Keystone XL bill. This vote-a-thon followed their 15 vote marathon from last Thursday. The Senate will vote on 13 more amendments tomorrow.

How many of the 12 passed? One. It was an amendment from Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mark Warner (D-VA) to help school officials learn more easily about federal programs and incentives that are available to improve energy efficiency. It passed by voice vote.

I have chronicled the 11 roll call votes below.

Twelve Democrats broke party line on at least one vote: Manchin (7), Heitkamp (6), Bennet (3), Donnelly (3), McCaskill (3), Tester (3), Warner (3), Carper (2), Henrich (1), Kaine (1), Klobuchar (1), and Udall (1).

Six Republicans broke party line on at least one vote: Collins (4), Ayotte (3), Alexander (2), Gardner (2), Grassley (2), and Kirk (2).

Read the run-down here.

What the Frack? 41 House Dems Join GOP to Vote to Expedite Natural Gas Exports

The House GOP decided to continue to show its love for the fossil fuel industry today by passing legislation to expedite the federal approval process for liquefied natural gas exports.

The bill, named the "LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act," would set an arbitrary 30-day deadline on the Department of Energy for approving LNG export terminals.

Exporting natural gas would increase fracking by opening up new markets. More sensitive lands would be put at risk, more people would see their water sources poisoned, and more communities would experience earthquakes. There is no climate benefit to LNG, and it can, in some cases, be dirtier than coal in terms of lifecycle emissions.

The vote was 277 to 133. One Republican--Chris Gibson (NY-19)--voted no, and 41 Democrats voted yes.

Here are those 41 Democrats:

Pete Aguilar (CA-31)
Brad Ashford (NE-02)
Ami Bera (CA-07)
G. K. Butterfield (NC-01)
Tony Cardenas (CA-29)
Joaquin Castro (TX-20)
Gerry Connolly (VA-11)
Jim Cooper (TN-05)
Jim Costa (CA-16)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
John Delaney (MD-06)
Suzan DelBene (WA-01)
Mike Doyle (PA-14)
Gwen Graham (FL-02)
Al Green (TX-09)
Gene Green (TX-29)
Denny Heck (WA-10)
Jim Himes (CT-04)
Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15)
Steny Hoyer (MD-05)
Steve Israel (NY-03)
Derek Kilmer (WA-06)
Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01)
Rick Larsen (WA-02)
Dan Lipinski (IL-03)
Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01)
Ben Lujan (NM-02)
Sean Maloney (NY-18)
Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
Donald Norcross (NJ-01)
Scott Peters (CA-52)
Colin Peterson (MN-07)
Cedric Richmond (LA-02)
Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02)
Tim Ryan (OH-13)
Kurt Schrader (OR-05)
Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09)
Norma Torres (CA-35)
Marc Veasey (TX-33)
Filemon Vela (TX-34)
Pete Visclosky (IN-01)
------------------------------------------------
Here they are in organized by state:

Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01)
Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09)
Ami Bera (CA-07)
Jim Costa (CA-16)
Tony Cardenas (CA-29)
Pete Aguilar (CA-31)
Norma Torres (CA-35)
Scott Peters (CA-52)
Jim Himes (CT-04)
Gwen Graham (FL-02)
Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
Dan Lipinski (IL-03)
Pete Visclosky (IN-01)
Cedric Richmond (LA-02)
Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02)
Steny Hoyer (MD-05)
John Delaney (MD-06)
Colin Peterson (MN-07)
Brad Ashford (NE-02)
Donald Norcross (NJ-01)
Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01)
Ben Lujan (NM-02)
Steve Israel (NY-03)
Sean Maloney (NY-18)
Tim Ryan (OH-13)
Kurt Schrader (OR-05)
Mike Doyle (PA-14)
Jim Cooper (TN-05)
Al Green (TX-09)
Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15)
Joaquin Castro (TX-20)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
Gene Green (TX-29)
Marc Veasey (TX-33)
Filemon Vela (TX-34)
Gerry Connolly (VA-11)
Suzan DelBene (WA-01)
Rick Larsen (WA-02)
Derek Kilmer (WA-06)
Denny Heck (WA-10)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"New," "Progressive" Obama Opens up Atlantic Coast to Offshore Drilling

Monday, the Obama administration announced its plans to put millions more acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. These lands would be designated "Wilderness," the highest level of protection for public lands which includes a ban on mining, drilling, roads, vehicles and permanent structures.

However, no sooner that he curtailed drilling in one place, he threw the doors wide open elsewhere:
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Tuesday will announce a proposal to open up coastal waters from Virginia to Georgia for oil and gas drilling, according to a person briefed on the plan. …
Opening the Eastern Seaboard to oil companies is a prize the industry has sought for decades and is a blow to environmental groups. They argue that the move would put the coasts of Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia at risk for an environmental disaster like the BP spill that struck the Gulf Coast in 2010, when millions of barrels of oil washed ashore after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig.
It will not be the first time that the Obama White House has proposed offshore drilling in the Atlantic. In early 2010, before the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, the administration proposed a five-year plan that would have allowed the federal government to sell drilling leases in the federal waters off Virginia. The administration abandoned that idea after the Gulf Coast spill in April.
Environmentalists, needless to say, are not pleased:
“Opening Atlantic waters to offshore drilling would take us in exactly the wrong direction,” said Bob Deans, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It would ignore the lessons of the disastrous BP blowout, the need to protect future generations from the dangers of climate change and the promise of a clean-energy future.”
“The BP blowout oiled a thousand miles of coastline, about the distance from Savannah to Boston,” Mr. Deans said. “Opening up part of the Atlantic to drilling could expose the entire Eastern Seaboard to the risks of a catastrophic blowout.”
Obama's strategy, as Coral Davenport (the NYT environment writer) notes, has always been to give the fossil fuel industry and environmentalists each a "win."  However, when the fossil fuel industry keeps winning, we and the planet lose. 

If Obama is to take the challenge of mitigating climate change seriously at all, he needs to move past a "drill, baby, drill" mindset that locks in fossil fuel extraction for years into the future.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Republicans, Climate Change, and the Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

Over the past few days, I've seen a number of articles that play up the significance of the fact that 15 GOP Senators voted to acknowledge that "human activity contributes to climate change." They do not deserve a gold star for acknowledging reality, but people like grading Republicans on a (very steep) curve. Some articles have even tried to portray this as a "rift in the party".

Let's instead review what these senators did--and did not--vote for.

The amendment in question, offered by John Hoeven (R-ND), originally had little to do with climate change. In fact, it began as an amendment saying that building the Keystone XL pipeline would have a negligible impact on the environment:
It is the sense of Congress that Congress is in agreement with the following findings of the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Secretary of State for the Keystone XL Project (referred to in this section as the ``FSEIS''):

    (1) ``The analyses of potential impacts associated with construction and normal operation of the proposed Project suggest that significant impacts to most resources are not expected along the proposed Project route'' (FSEIS page 4.16-1, section 4.16).
    (2) ``The total annual GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions (direct and indirect) attributed to the No Action scenarios range from 28 to 42 percent greater than for the proposed Project'' (FSEIS page ES-34, section ES.5.4.2).
    (3) ``. . . approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs, and supply-demand scenarios'' (FSEIS page ES-16, section ES.4.1.1).
    SENSE OF THE SENATE ON ENERGY COSTS AND SUPPLIES.
    It is the sense of the Senate that Congress should--
    (1) reject efforts to impose economy-wide taxes, fees, mandates, or regulations that will--
    (A) increase the cost of energy for families and businesses of the United States; or
    (B) destroy jobs; and
    (2) prioritize policies that encourage and enable innovation in the United States that might lead to energy supplies that are more abundant, affordable, clean, diverse, and secure.

However, it was changed just a few hours before receiving a vote. Here's what happened according to POLITICO:
The GOP’s trick play on the climate amendment had the party first propose language that stayed on message, praising “abundant, affordable, clean, diverse and secure” energy, its mantra that includes fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. But an edit that emerged in the hours ahead of the vote that borrowed the Democratic language on human-caused climate change, but omitting the word “significant” to describe the impact.
Hoeven later told reporters that the change to include the climate language was made “because our members felt they needed something they could vote for,” though he was ultimately forced to vote against it to prevent it from reaching the 60-vote threshold.
Basically, some Republicans, knowing that Democrats were going to make them vote on anthropogenic climate change, wanted weaker language that would still give them a way to deflect charges of being "anti-science." 
The Hoeven modified amendment read as follows:
(a) Findings.--The environmental analysis contained in the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement referred to in section 2(a) and deemed to satisfy the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) as described in section 2(a), states that--     (1) ``[W]arming of the climate system is unequivocal and each of the last [3] decades has been successively warmer at the Earth's surface than any preceding decade since 1850.'';
    (2) ``The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], in addition to other institutions, such as the National Research Council and the United States (U.S.) Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), have concluded that it is extremely likely that global increases in atmospheric [greenhouse gas] concentrations and global temperatures are caused by human activities.'';
    (3) ``A warmer planet causes large-scale changes that reverberate throughout the climate system of the Earth, including higher sea levels, changes in precipitation, and altered weather patterns (e.g. an increase in more extreme weather events).
    (4) ``The analyses of potential impacts associated with construction and normal operation of the proposed Project suggest that significant impacts to most resources are not expected along the proposed Project route'' (FSEIS page 4.16-1, section 4.16.;
    (5) ``The total annual GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions (direct and indirect) attributed to the No Action scenarios range from 28 to 42 percent greater than for the proposed Project'' (FSEIS page ES-34, section ES.5.4.2).; and
    (6) ``..... approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs, and supply-demand scenarios'' (FSEIS page ES-16, section ES.4.1.1).''.
    (b) Sense of Congress.--Consistent with the findings under subsection (a), it is the sense of Congress that--
    (1) climate change is real; and
    (2) human activity contributes to climate change.
The vote on the amendment was 59 to 40. It died, being one short of the 60-vote threshold. 
 
39 Republicans and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) voted against the amendment. Sanders's logic was the complete opposite of that of the Republicans: he opposed it, I would presume, because of the statements in (4) through (6), the only parts with which most of these Republicans would have agreed.

But 15 Republicans voted for it (along with the Democrats and Angus King of Maine):

Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
Susan Collins (R-ME)
Bob Corker (R-TN)
Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Dean Heller (R-NV)
Mark Kirk (R-IL)
John McCain (R-AZ)
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Rand Paul (R-KY)
Rob Portman (R-OH)
Mike Rounds (R-MT)
Pat Toomey (R-PA)

After that vote, the Senate voted on Brian Schatz (D-HI)'s amendment. It described the human contribution to climate change as "significant"."
 SEC. __. SENSE OF CONGRESS.
    (a) Findings.--The environmental analysis contained in the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement referred to in section 2(a) and deemed to satisfy the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) as described in section 2(a), states that--     (1) ``[W]arming of the climate system is unequivocal and each of the last [3] decades has been successively warmer at the Earth's surface than any preceding decade since 1850.'';
    (2) ``The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], in addition to other institutions, such as the National Research Council and the United States (U.S.) Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), have concluded that it is extremely likely that global increases in atmospheric [greenhouse gas] concentrations and global temperatures are caused by human activities.''; and
    (3) ``A warmer planet causes large-scale changes that reverberate throughout the climate system of the Earth, including higher sea levels, changes in precipitation, and altered weather patterns (e.g. an increase in more extreme weather events).''.
    (b) Sense of Congress.--Consistent with the findings under subsection (a), it is the sense of Congress that--
    (1) climate change is real; and
    (2) human activity significantly contributes to climate change.
By adding the adverb "significantly," the number of Republican supporters dropped from 15 to 5

Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
Susan Collins (R-ME)
Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Mark Kirk (R-IL)

The following day, the amendment offered by Bernie Sanders (I-VT) came up for discussion. His amendment went a step beyond that of Schatz's to talk about solutions and underscore urgency:
It is the sense of Congress that Congress is in agreement
     with the opinion of virtually the entire worldwide scientific
     community that--
       (1) climate change is real;
       (2) climate change is caused by human activities;
       (3) climate change has already caused devastating problems
     in the United States and around the world;
       (4) a brief window of opportunity exists before the United
     States and the entire planet suffer irreparable harm; and
       (5) it is imperative that the United States transform its
     energy system away from fossil fuels and toward energy
     efficiency and sustainable energy as rapidly as possible.
The amendment had zero Republican supporters. Every Republican present voted to table the amendment, dispensing with it without any further debate. 

Sanders's amendment was the only one of these three with clear policy implications. And where policy is concerned, the GOP looks pretty united.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Senate Voted on 15 KXL Amendments Last Night. Here's How the Votes Went.

Last night, the Senate voted on fifteen amendments to the Keystone XL pipeline bill (S.1), bringing the total number of amendments voted on so far to twenty-four.

At around 6 PM last night, when the Senate cast its fifteenth roll call vote on an amendment to the Keystone XL bill, Mitch McConnell highlighted the fact that the Senate had just reached a milestone:
“We’ve actually reached a milestone here that I think is noteworthy for the Senate. We just cast our 15th roll call vote on an amendment on this bill, which is more votes — more roll call votes on amendments than the entire United States Senate [did] in all of 2014,” he said.
Republicans and some Democrats had often criticized Harry Reid for "filling the amendment tree" as Majority Leader. This a tactic that Majority Leaders can do, as they have the ability to submit amendments first, to close off the amendment process.

Despite allowing votes on so many amendments, McConnell did not allow debate on them, angering Democrats. You can watch McConnell rudely turning down Democratic requests to talk about their amendments here. The Democrats ask to talk, McConnell and other Republicans object, and the Republicans then move to table the amendment.

I have included all 15 votes from last night below.

Two reminders:

(1) As you probably already know, amendments need 60 votes to pass, so many amendments will fail with fifty-odd votes.

(2) When the Senate votes to "table" an amendment, they are voting to dismiss it. Only a majority of those present is needed here.

---------------------------------------Go to Daily Kos for the rest----------------------------------------------

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Manchin Really Want to Pollute Your Air, and So Do Some Other Dems

The Senate is spending today voting on Keystone XL amendments.

Mike Lee (R-UT)'s amendment to weaken the Endangered Species Act was a straight party line vote, but as such, it failed to pass (needing 60, not just the 54 it got, for passage).

But, as always, I find votes more interesting when people cross party lines. So let's look at two of those votes today.

Dick Durbin (D-IL) offered an amendment to ensure that the storage and transportation of petroleum coke is regulated in a manner that ensures the protection of public and ecological health.

Back in 2013, he, along with Senators Levin and Stabenow of Michigan and Senator Brown of Ohio, had introduced a bill that would have required a study of petroleum coke (petcoke), which is a byproduct of petroleum refining used in energy production. The legislation was, in part, a response to the public health and environmental concerns raised about three-story high pile of petcoke on the banks of the Detroit River.

But petcoke is also a problem closer to home for Durbin. Later in 2013, he visited a petcoke storage facility in Southeast Chicago.
Senator Durbin visited a community where residents say something needs to be done to protect them from the dust produced from storing the petroleum by-product.
When weather and wind conditions are right, the storage hills of petcoke below produce dust that visits the neighbors.
''Everytime you wipe your house, you could wipe it. Today, tomorrow, all you have is a bunch of black stuff,'' said resident Melody Castillo.
Durbin led a delegation on a visit along the perimeter of the petcoke yards - talking with a nearby resident whose children have asthma - and saying there needs to be stronger regulation of petcoke storage.
''The companies should be warned right here and now, we're not going to quit. As long as these piles are sitting here - blowing this dust into the community causing health problems, then they're in for a fight," Senator Durbin said.
The Senate voted against the amendment 58 to 41.

One Republican—Mark Kirk (R-IL)—voted for it.

Five Democrats voted against it:

Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
Joe Manchin (D-WV)
Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
Jon Tester (D-MT)

Pat Toomey (R-PA) offered an amendment to exempt waste coal power plants from some EPA pollution limits. There are 14 of such plants in Pennsylvania, so Toomey's Democratic colleague Bob Casey was happy to co-sponsor. Waste coal, however, is even dirtier than regular coal.

The amendment failed to achieve the 60 vote threshold for an amendment, dying 54 to 45.

Susan Collins (R-ME) was the only Republican NO vote.

Three Democrats voted for it: Bob Casey (D-PA), Heidi Heitkamp, and Joe Donnelly (D-IN).