In remarks on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine reiterated his opposition to legislation that would mandate approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. In advance of a procedural vote on the bill this evening, Kaine praised the United States for its recent global energy leadership and warned that approval of Keystone XL would accelerate the development of dirty tar sands oil and move U.S. energy policy in the wrong direction.
“Why embrace dirty energy when America is in the midst of a clean energy revolution? That is the primary reason that I oppose Keystone,” said Kaine. “Let’s just get a little bit cleaner tomorrow than today. That’s what we’ve been doing as a nation. And it’s been increasing supply, it’s been driving down demand, it’s been driving down prices, it’s been helping us control emissions. That’s what we should keep doing. So I am a pro-energy senator, but I am a deep skeptic about the use of tar sands oil… I’m going to oppose the Keystone pipeline because tar sands oil is going backwards, not forwards.”
Full transcript of Senator Kaine’s remarks below:
Madam President, I am happy I was here for my colleague’s comments on this important matter, the Keystone pipeline and like the Senator from Indiana. I’m also happy that we are finally able to have this debate. The comments that he made are very sincere and passionately believed. I accept that. I would only challenge one aspect of the comments–the suggestion that opposition to Keystone is either feeble or only for political reasons.
I am a pro-energy senator, and the first bill that I introduced in the 114th Congress was a bill that I am cosponsoring with Senator Barrasso of Wyoming to expedite American exports of liquid natural gas. But I am a strong opponent of Keystone on environmental and economic grounds, and I’d like to spend a few minutes and describe why.
To begin with, it can probably be summed up in a question–why embrace dirty energy when America is in the midst of a clean energy revolution? That is the primary reason that I oppose Keystone. The United States, Madam President, thank goodness, is on a clean energy roll. Not only are we on a clean energy roll, we are on an energy-production roll that is helping our economy, helping our trade deficit, and hurting some of our most significant global adversaries, notably Russia and Iran.
We have embraced, over the last few years, a set of conservation and efficiency investments, probably most notably the increased cafe standards that have saved energy use in the vehicle sector and also helped the American auto industry significantly rebound. Our natural gas revolution, which I’m a strong supporter of, has enabled American industry and consumers to get lower-price energy and has enabled us to switch from dirtier fuels in the production of electric power and other aspects of our power usage. Wind and solar developments and other non-carbon energy developments have rocketed ahead; nearly a third of the energy added to the American electricity grid since 2005 has been in the wind and solar area. And we’re one of the few nations in the world that, in the period from 2005 to 2012, actually saw a reduction in our carbon emissions. We are on a clean energy roll, we are innovating for the world, and we’re selling technologies to the rest of the world, and that is good for our economy and also good for the environment.
We’re also asserting American energy leadership not just in the advances in clean energy but also in the significant advances in American energy production. I think we should feel good about the fact that we are a country that has gone from being one of the greatest net importers of energy in the world to now a country that is going to be one of the greatest energy producers in the world, and, in many energy areas, we are now a net exporter.
So emissions are going down, production and exports are going up, and, Madam President, the other thing that’s great for Americans is prices are going down. The barrel of oil right now is in the fifty dollar range, which is putting about a thousand dollars a year back into the pockets of an American family. It’s helping American businesses, and it is imposing, as I mentioned earlier, some significant harm upon two of our most persistent global adversaries–Iran and Russia, who rely on energy exports to drive their economy.
Madam President, this energy revolution, higher production, greater economic efficiency, greater cleanliness–it’s all been happening without the Keystone pipeline. It’s all been happening without the United States embracing tar sands oil. We’re going the right direction now, and I oppose the Keystone pipeline because accelerating the use of tar sands oil turns us around, and, instead of going in the right direction to more production, more national security and greater emissions control, the Keystone pipeline accelerates tar sands oil and takes us the wrong direction. Simply put tar sands oil and the exploitation of that resource is a bad bet for the environment, and I believe a bad bet for the economy.
Last month, a magazine that I really like that normally has a whole lot of articles about the outdoors, Outside Magazine December 2014, ran a lengthy article on the area in Canada in Alberta where tar sands are mined. And the article is called “The High Cost of Oil.” And to anyone interested in this debate, pro, con or undecided, go online, Outside Magazine December 2014, “The High Cost of Oil,” and read what the mining of tar sands oil does to this part of Canada and to this planet.
Tar sands oil is not like conventional gas or petroleum. Tar sands oil, both the mining and refining and production of it, produces about 15% to 20% more greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy than conventional petroleum. Natural gas produces dramatically less CO2 than conventional petroleum but tar sands oil produces dramatically more. So if you care about the emissions of CO2, and I think we should all care about the emissions of CO2 because I accept the science that says CO2 emissions cause significant climate effects. If you care about CO2 emissions, then tar sands oil is absolutely the worst thing that can be done.
Now, over the year or two, two years now that I’ve been in the Senate, I’ve had a lot of folks come to me and talk to me about Keystone, and they never say a word about greenhouse gas or CO2 emissions. Not a word. Senator Coats didn’t say a word in his comments about CO2 or greenhouse gas emissions. I’ve asked individuals when they’ve come and talked to me about Keystone, ”What do you think about CO2 emissions? What do you think about the fact that tar sands oil is significantly more carbon-dense than normal petroleum?” And the response I have found myself getting a lot is “I don’t know; I’m not a scientist.” In fact, I heard that from an energy CEO who employs tons of scientists. He said, “I don’t know. I’m not a scientist.” Well, I the scientific consensus, I believe, is very clear that we have to do what we can, not drastically and dramatically but in an incremental way every day, to bring down our CO2 emissions. I believe we need to do that in smart ways, and yet from an emissions standpoint, tar sands oil goes exactly the wrong direction.
It’s not just CO2 emissions. Tar sands also involves the mining of it and–I would encourage you to read this article–involves scraping up vast acreages of an arboreal forest in Alberta to get to the tar sands underneath. So far, an area about the size of the state of Rhode Island has been completely destroyed to look like a moonscape to get to the tar sands, and this will significantly accelerate the more pipelines that are built.
In the area of Alberta where the mining and refining has taken place, there’s been a dramatic increase in respiratory illness and other illnesses associated either with airborne emissions or the contamination of the area’s water supply. The article, probably one of the most powerful things about it is not the lengthy analysis, not the words, it’s the pictures. The pictures in that article are staggering. And when you see what has to be done to these arboreal forests to mine tar sands oil, you come back to the question–why would we embrace a dirtier technology when America’s on a clean energy revolution that’s driving down prices, driving up production, and also driving down missions? Tar sands oil takes us in the wrong direction. It’s not so much about the pipeline; we rely on pipelines in this country. But it’s about the acceleration of the development of a resource that frankly just doesn’t need to be developed.
Madam President, I’ll conclude and say this, that some say in, as I’ve made this argument, “Well look, it’s going to be mined anyway and refined anyway. If the pipeline doesn’t go through the United States, then it will go westward or eastward through Canada or another direction. I’m not completely sure that that’s correct. The article in Outside discusses the fact that Canadians, who know this better than anybody because they live in the neighborhood, are fighting against pipelines being built in Canada.
There’s also the matter of, with oil now at a significantly lower price than it’s been, even the economics of this tar sands oil, which is pretty expensive because of what you have to do to refine it, may not make sense.
But even if we set those arguments aside and somebody says to me, “Hey, why shouldn’t the U.S. just give the big green light to tar sands oil because somebody’s going to get it?” The reason I think we shouldn’t is I think the U.S. is showing the world right now what it means to be an energy leader. Increased production, lower emissions, lower prices. Through innovation, through American innovation, we are showing the world what it means to be an energy leader. And we are a leader because we’ve embraced I think a simple ethic. I’m not an engineer, but as I look at what’s happened in the innovation over the last decade, the ethic we’ve embraced is let’s do it cleaner tomorrow than today. Pretty simple. Let’s do it cleaner tomorrow than today. Not dramatically cleaner. It doesn’t have to turn day and night from tomorrow to today. But let’s just get a little bit cleaner tomorrow than today. That’s what we’ve been doing as a nation. And it’s been increasing supply, it’s been driving down demand, it’s been driving down prices, it’s been helping us control emissions. That’s what we should keep doing. So I am a pro-energy senator, but I am a deep skeptic about the use of tar sands oil. And for that reason, I’m glad we’re going to have the debate. I think we should finally be at it. But I’m going to oppose the Keystone pipeline because tar sands oil is going backwards, not forwards. We’re showing the world what it means to go forward and that’s, the direction we should continue to go.