Senate Democrats held together just enough votes on Tuesday to defeat, at least for now, legislation to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
The bill's failure, by 59 yeas to 41 nays, lets President Obama off the hook for a possible veto at the start of this lame-duck session of Congress. Sixty votes were needed to avoid a filibuster and move the legislation along. The House had passed it last week.
Relieved environmentalists celebrated the brief reprieve. So did the Senate Democrats who are about to relinquish their majority.
"I know the fight is far from over, but I'm proud of my colleagues today," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who led her party's forces during six hours of feisty debate.
In the end, 14 Democrats broke party ranks. Nine of them will be back next year—or 10, in the unlikely event that Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, leader of the pro-pipeline Democrats, manages to hold on to her seat in a runoff.
Without question, the Keystone project will be back in 2015 to greet the new Congress.
The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is back in full force.
The U.S. House tried for the ninth time Friday to approve the project. It succeeded, though not by enough to override a presidential veto. The Senate's turn is this week.
Here are 23 stories, from an ebook to primers, that will help you navigate the polarized Keystone debate as it heats up—and all the issues on which it touches: our changing energy fortunes, global climate change, pipeline safety, activism and more.
"Keystone and Beyond provides the most definitive account yet of the Keystone XL pipeline saga. It also upends the national debate over the pipeline by tracing its origins to policy decisions made by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in the first months of their administration, and to expectations about energy supply and demand that have turned out to be wrong."
Reversing oil and natural gas pipelines or switching the product they're carrying can have a "significant impact" on the line's safety and integrity—and "may not be advisable" in some cases, federal regulators told pipeline companies in a recent advisory.
The alert is the first time the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has officially cautioned the industry about potential safety threats from restarting, reversing or reworking pipelines to handle Canadian tar sands oil and the surge in U.S. oil and natural gas supplies. If not handled properly, those changes can increase the risk of pipeline leaks and ruptures, the Sept. 12 notice said.
The PHMSA bulletin validates the concerns of communities and pipeline safety experts who have pressed for more details and assurances about pipeline reversals and other changes. The proliferation of those changes has also frustrated environmentalists because they have provided routes for tar sands headed to the Gulf Coast in the absence of the Keystone XL pipeline.
PHMSA said the advisory was triggered in part by last year's oil spills involving two reversed pipelines, ExxonMobil's Pegasus tar sands line in Arkansas and the Tesoro Logistics line in North Dakota. Those accidents, as well as "other information PHMSA has become aware of" led the agency to issue the alert, the bulletin said.
Carl Pope, a veteran leader of the environmental movement, is the former executive director and chairman of the Sierra Club.
The joint announcement between the U.S. and China of ambitious national commitments they plan to lay on the table for the Paris climate summit in December 2015 could indeed generate momentum and reverse the climate tragedy—but only if governments and climate advocates shift their framing of the climate challenge.
The dominant story line remains that reducing emissions will be an economic burden, because fossil fuels are cheap, and clean replacements are expensive. This was true when the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997. Climate diplomacy therefore focused on who would bear the burden of a more costly low-carbon economy. Environmentalists' main climate solution was to raise the cost of fossil energy by pricing carbon—and that argument gave coal and oil interests all the ammunition they needed to block climate progress.
Poor countries argued, reasonably, that the rich had created the problem, and therefore should pay for any expensive solution. But the rich nations were unwilling to make the needed sacrifice, fearing higher energy prices would favor their economic rivals, China and India. So climate diplomacy stalled—the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009 failed to reach a meaningful deal, and things were not looking much brighter for Paris next year.
The U.S.-China announcement signals a potential thaw, and has rightly been hailed.
But if you look at the numbers that Presidents Obama and Xi laid on the table, a huge problem emerges.
House Republicans, joined by a few dozen Democrats, voted once again on Friday to push the Keystone XL pipeline through without presidential approval.
The action, choreographed with a vote in the Senate next week, was freighted with political symbolism but hardly the last word on what remains one of the hottest fights in Washington.
The vote was 252 to 161, with just 31 Democrats joining the practically unanimous Republicans in favor of the bill.
That means enough Democrats voted against the pipeline to uphold a presidential veto if it comes to that. It takes 146 votes in the House to uphold a veto.
The Senate is expected to vote on Nov. 18, but it is not yet clear whether the necessary 60 votes are there to send a final bill to President Obama. It takes 67 of 100 Senators to override a veto.
With shotguns slung over their backs and radios strapped to their belts, Maria Merkuratsuk and her older brother Eli hiked to a ridge and looked down at the clearing. They were perched at the edge of Nachvak Fjord on the Arctic tundra of Labrador, on the lookout for polar bears.
The view was at once familiar and new. It was the same bountiful land they remembered from their childhood, when their family of 12 spent summers there with other Inuit families, hunting, fishing and foraging during the months when the sea ice melted and allowed their fishing boats to enter the fjord. And yet, it wasn't the same...
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This week's climate pledges from the United States and China are aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the world's two largest sources. What about No. 3?
India—the world's third-biggest producer of carbon pollution—has not announced how it plans to help limit global warming. As part of ongoing United Nations-led climate treaty negotiations, however, every nation must offer something.
One thing is already obvious: India's offer probably won't resemble what the U.S. and China just announced. As an unidentified senior Indian negotiator told the Thethirdpole.net, "We cannot make the same commitment, or even a similar one. India and China are not in the same stage of development."
One of the indisputable facts of climate change is the rapid melting of the Arctic. Since 1979, satellites have captured images that show the sea ice disappearing right before our eyes.
Every decade since 1979, between 173,000 and 196,000 square miles of ice have disappeared—a loss larger than the state of California. In the southern parts of the Arctic, it’s disappearing even faster—between 280,000 square miles (California plus Arizona) and 410,000 square miles (California, Arizona and Colorado) per decade.
The United States and China announced new goals for reducing their global warming pollution in the coming decades, with the U.S. ramping up its rate of decarbonization in five to 10 years and China promising that its carbon emissions will peak in the next 15 years.
The announcements, which came at a multinational summit in Beijing Tuesday, made clear for the first time the commitments that the two biggest sources of greenhouse gases will make as part of the urgent United Nations negotiations. The talks aim to reach a comprehensive climate change treaty that could be signed in Paris at the end of 2015.
The U.S. and China produce about a third of the total annual emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas. Both have set out plans to reduce emissions, especially by using less coal in the production of electricity. Their new pledges would deepen those commitments.