Tim Kaine speech on Senate floor on Keystone pipeline
Mr. President, I rise in opposition to the bill mandating approval of the Keystone Pipeline. I oppose the project because accelerating the development of tar sands oil is contrary to our national interests, our economic interests, national security interests and environmental interests.
I believe there is no way to fully analyze this question without grappling with another question—is carbon pollution from human activity affecting the world’s climate in a negative way? Because, if carbon pollution doesn’t affect the climate, then tar sands would not be a significant issue for me. But, if we accept the general scientific consensus—and Virginians do—that carbon pollution does cause negative changes in climate, stopping or even slowing the development of tar sands oil is good for the United States and good for the world.
Some who have encouraged me to support this project, duck when I ask this question: Do you think manmade carbon pollution affects our climate? One Virginia CEO, whose company is filled with scientists, basically told me, “I don’t know, I’m not a scientist,” and a representative of the United States Chamber of Commerce testified similarly before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this year. But those of us who take an oath to serve here have a responsibility to consider the scientific evidence.
In Virginia, the second largest region is Hampton Roads comprised of 1.6 million people living in numerous cities and counties along the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Coast. Hampton Roads is a thriving economy and it’s also the home of the largest concentration of naval power in the world. It is also, next to New Orleans, the region most directly affected by rising sea levels, and all agree that rising sea levels are caused, in part, by carbon pollution. Climate changes are not a tomorrow issue in Virginia. They are a today issue. Throughout Hampton Roads, rising sea levels are causing significant challenges—flooding roads, homes and neighborhoods damaged, some even unmarketable, economic harm to families and businesses. At current projections, the main access road into the U.S. Navy’s principal base in Hampton Roads will be flooded and impassable three hours a day by 2040. With an economy so dependent upon the naval presence, anything that threatens this military investment is potentially devastating. I sponsored a symposium on sea level rise in Hampton Roads this summer, attended by hundreds with bipartisan representation from local, state, and federal officials and members of Congress. The concern is real, and virtually all estimates of sea level rise in this community pose staggering challenges to every aspect of life here for years to come.
And it’s not just Hampton Roads. Virginia’s largest industry is ag and forestry, very affected by climate. Tourism is a major industry, very affected by climate. Aquaculture, an important industry, very affected by climate. So those who would want to duck the question of climate change or challenge the scientific evidence—I say to them, “Come to Virginia with me and talk to people whose lives are being seriously affected today by climate changes caused in part by escalating carbon pollution.”
So what’s the answer to this problem, and how does it relate to the Keystone Pipeline?
We have to continue to move toward a cleaner energy economy. We can’t throw the brake on the use of fossil fuels; that would be unrealistic and would hurt our economy. As governor of Virginia, I supported building a state-of-the-art coal plant in exchange for converting a plant that predated the Clean Air Act to natural gas. I support development of offshore energy.
We can use a phased approach to produce energy cleaner tomorrow than today, reducing pollution caused by energy sources through innovation and creating jobs. And guess what, Mr. President? As you know, that’s exactly what we’re doing. Wind power involves no carbon pollution and it’s the fastest growing energy source in America, cleaner tomorrow than today. Utility scales solar electricity output has increased 23-fold in the last decade. Cleaner tomorrow than today. The revolution in natural gas production in the U.S. has turned our country into the world’s leading energy producer and helped us reduce carbon pollution. Cleaner tomorrow than today. Innovation driven by smart regulations in the American auto industry means we’re producing cars that go much farther than ever before, and these developments help reduce the demand for foreign oil and prices that consumers experience. Cleaner tomorrow than today. Virginia rate-payers are supporting nuclear investments over the years that have enabled us to generate 40% of our power through non-carbon technology. Cleaner tomorrowthan today. And just as new technologies helped us make coal plants cleaner in the ’80s to battle acid rain, there are ways to make our existing and future coal plants emit less carbon pollution. Cleaner tomorrow than today. And with the U.S. taking significant leadership steps, it’s more likely that other nations will do so, as well. I believe our innovative path forward is one of the reasons why China was willing to announce recently that they will take similar steps. Cleaner tomorrow than today. The U.S. is now becoming a global leader in reducing carbon pollution and we’re there because of smart regulations and especially American innovation.
We always have to make sure that regulations strike the right balance, but by becoming cleaner tomorrow than today, we’re creating jobs, protecting the environment, reducing our trade deficit and ending our overdependence on energy from foreign nations. And, as members of the armed services committee—the members here on the floor—the reduced energy independence is great for American national security.
And, Mr. President, this is why I oppose the Keystone project. Tar sands oil is dirty energy producing significantly more carbon pollution than conventional petroleum. After all we have done to be cleaner tomorrow than today, why would we embrace the technology that is a huge backslide, that produces more, not less, carbon pollution than conventional sources? Embracing a dirtier energy technology moves us precisely in the wrong direction.
Now, Keystone is a simple project; it is neither the environmental game-over that some would suggest, nor the energy panacea that others promise. But whether or not we embrace tar sands oil development does send a message about how we intend to meet American global energy needs. We can either send the message of “cleaner tomorrow than today” or send a message “anything goes.” Because U.S. innovation is helping us lead the world to “cleaner tomorrow than today” energy future, we shouldn’t turn back now. There are those who say that the tar sands fields of Alberta will be developed anyway, so why doesn’t the U.S. Just go along? The owners of the resource may well develop it and find alternate routes to ship it through Canada. They can make that decision on their own, although falling oil prices may make the relative costs of such investment non-competitive. But even if the owners of those fields decide to move forward in this development, the official policy of the United States should not, in my view, be embrace, promote and accelerate tar sands oil. Our official policy should be “cleaner tomorrow than today,” not “anything goes.”
For these reasons, Mr. President, I oppose the bill to force approval of the Keystone Pipeline project and make accelerated tar sands oil development the official policy of the United States, and I yield the floor.
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