WASHINGTON – Republicans in the House of Representatives pushed through a bill on Wednesday that would force federal approval of the Keystone XL pipeline without further review. The vote was 241 to 175.
The legislation is the latest of several attempts by Congress to force the Obama administration's hand. It is unlikely to be taken up in the Senate and the White House has threatened a veto.
If anything, the bill's backers may have lost ground this time, and ended up with a much more partisan divide. Only 19 Democrats voted for the pipeline on Wednesday, compared to 69 in a vote last year.
What happened? The most persuasive theory is that the Republicans over-reached by waiving several environmental laws and choking off potential court challenges to the pipeline project.
As decision day nears on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, the environmental movement looks different than it did in 2009—the last time a major climate policy fight took center stage in Washington.
Then, the nation's largest green groups were the main engine behind a movement to pass federal climate change legislation. They spent vast quantities of financial and political capital lobbying congressional negotiators and corporations, before the bill failed in 2010.
This time, the main force of opposition is a messy amalgam of disparate grassroots efforts stretching from Maine to Utah that has found common cause in stopping the Canada-to-Texas pipeline and other tar sands projects. Instead of relying mainly on inside-the-Beltway tactics, these activists are taking to the streets in protest, engaging in civil disobedience and public education, in the hope of applying enough public pressure to move President Obama. Mainstream green groups are still involved, but much of the momentum is coming from community campaigns—with 350.org, a grassroots climate group founded by Bill McKibben, playing a key role.
U.S. oil production is suddenly growing so fast that some analysts are questioning how much the country really needs the Canadian tar sands oil that would move through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
This month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said it expects domestic crude oil production to surge 20 percent by the end of 2014 from its level at the start of this year. That means an additional 1.4 million barrels of U.S.-produced oil will be available each day—about twice as much as the Keystone would bring in from Canada.
Although the United States will still need foreign oil for years to come, declining demand and increasing supply are cutting into imports surprisingly fast. The Energy Information Administration, which is the Energy Department's data reporting and forecasting arm, expects the nation to import just 30 percent of its oil needs next year, the lowest since the mid-1980s. Under one particularly optimistic EIA scenario, the U.S. could even achieve the grail of zero net imports in the 2030s.
Almost two months after a ruptured pipeline sent at least 210,000 gallons of oil flowing through a neighborhood in Mayflower, Ark., the line's owner—oil giant ExxonMobil—remains largely silent on the future of its failed pipeline.
Most of the visible oil has been removed from the neighborhood and the ruptured section of pipe has been replaced and reburied. Yet Exxon hasn't asked the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) for permission to restart the 850-mile Pegasus line, which runs across four states from Patoka, Ill. to Nederland, Texas.
A company spokesman said Exxon is simply being thorough and cautious.
Environmentalists suffered a setback on Tuesday when British Columbia re-elected a premier who left the door open for approval of two oil pipelines that would carry tar sands oil across B.C. to the Pacific Coast, where it could be exported to the world market.
Despite trailing in the polls, incumbent Christy Clark, the leader of B.C.'s Liberal Party, defeated Adrian Dix and his New Democratic Party. Dix had opposed both pipelines, and environmental groups had hoped his win would signal the end of the projects.
The two Canadian pipelines—along with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline across the United States—are crucial to the expansion of Canada's oil sands industry, which is based in the province of Alberta. The industry hopes to double in size over the next decade, but because Alberta is landlocked, more pipelines are needed to get the oil to the coast.
Like the Keystone project, the Canadian pipelines face grassroots opposition from local landowners and environmental groups.
Shareholders of one of the country's biggest hotel chains have struck down a resolution that would force the company to consider replacing energy-guzzling shower heads with more efficient ones—yet its backers are claiming victory.
Although only nine percent of Choice Hotels shareholders voted in favor of the resolution, the proposal is one of a handful of global warming resolutions that companies tried to dismiss in this year's proxy season—but that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said must be put to a vote. The trend reflects continued concerns by the SEC about the business risks of climate change.
"They're enforcing their rules in a way that allows a lot more climate-related resolutions to go through to a vote," said Rob Berridge, program manager at Ceres, a coalition of sustainability focused investors with $11 trillion in assets.
As if the public debate about global warming wasn't complex enough, a new field in climate research is coming of age, grabbing media attention and spawning seemingly contradictory headlines.
The work, called attribution research, doesn't challenge the scientific consensus that climate change is happening. Instead, it strives to understand the regional effects of global warming by determining whether increased greenhouse gas levels did—or didn't—cause a particular weather event. But the findings can be confusing. For instance, scientists say that climate change made Hurricane Sandy worse, but that it had nothing to do with historic floods in Thailand. Warming probably didn't cause this year's severe winter storm, Nemo, but it may have supercharged it. It caused some droughts, but not others.
Adding to the confusion is a trend that worries some experts: People on both sides of the climate divide tend to promote only those attribution studies that support their beliefs. Whether a conscious decision or not, this selective use of research is further polarizing the national conversation on climate change, experts told InsideClimate News.
Congressional lawmakers from both parties are taking a step to catalyze the nation's clean energy economy: After 32 years of restricting a crucial investment tool to expanding fossil fuels, they're pushing to open it to renewables.
Legislation is moving through both houses to tweak the tax code to let clean energy developers form a master limited partnership, or MLP, a type of publicly traded company structure not subject to corporate taxes.
For three decades, coal, oil and gas companies have used MLPs to raise hundreds of billions of dollars for pipelines, refineries and other projects. The financing vehicle is credited with helping sustain the nation's current drilling boom.
In the latest show of force by opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, a group of 150 major Democratic donors sent a letter Friday to President Obama, urging him to reject the controversial application from TransCanada for permission to send more than 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast.
The signatories comprise business leaders, philanthropists and celebrities—including clean energy entrepreneurs Vinod Khosla, Jigar Shah and Steve Kirsch, long-time Obama bundler Wendy Abrams and actress Blythe Danner.
Rep. Tim Griffin, a staunch supporter of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, recently asked ExxonMobil to move another, smaller oil pipeline away from a major water source in his home state of Arkansas.
It's a contradiction that grates on opponents of the Keystone, which would run through a critically important aquifer that supplies irrigation and drinking water to Nebraska and seven other states.
"What's good for Arkansas is good for Nebraska," anti-Keystone activist Jane Kleeb said in an email. "Rep. Griffin showed courage and common sense asking Exxon to move the tar sands pipeline away from the water. The same request should apply to all pipelines, especially Keystone XL that lies [in] the Ogallala aquifer and crosses over 200 bodies of water and family wells."