February 03, 2015

Keystone Debate a Sign of Things to Come in 114th Congress

On January 29, 2015, the U.S. Senate passed S. 1, the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act, by a vote of 62-47, with all Republicans and eight Democrats voting for the legislation. While the president pledged weeks ago to veto the legislation, the debate over the legislation — and particularly over the nearly 250 amendments that were filed to it — foreshadows many of the energy and environmental policy issues that will occupy Congress’ attention over the next two years. Below are the main categories of amendments that were filed and / or considered, as well as several key amendments within each of those categories. Although many of the defeated amendments received over 50 votes, under the Senate rules they needed to receive 60 votes in order to be adopted.

Climate Change

A number of climate change amendments were offered and several were voted on, although most were “Sense of the Senate” or “Sense of Congress” amendments which did not offer specific actionable measures and were therefore symbolic. This foreshadows likely efforts by mostly Republicans to overturn President Obama’s environmental regulations and efforts by Democrats to demonstrate a difference between the parties.

Senator Whitehouse (R-RI) — Sense of the Senate that "climate change is real and is not a hoax." Approved 98-1.

Sen. Blunt (R-MO) — Sense of the Senate regarding the conditions for the president entering into certain bilateral or other international agreements regarding greenhouse gas emissions. Failed by a vote of 51-46.

Sen. Schatz (D-HI) — Would require that, in order for the Keystone XL to operate, the annual amount of renewable energy capacity that is built in the U.S. must be equal to or greater than the maximum annual capacity of the pipeline on an energy content basis. This amendment did not receive a vote.

Sen. Fischer (R-NE) — Would prohibit federal agencies from considering greenhouse gas emissions from proposed federal projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This amendment did not receive a vote.

Renewables and Energy Efficiency

The bipartisan nature of these amendments, in particular the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency measure, shows that there continues to be broad support for these efforts. We expect these topics to resurface during this Congress.

Sen. Portman (R-OH) — Identical to energy efficiency legislation, the so-called Shaheen-Portman bill, that has already passed the House of Representatives. It passed by a vote of 94-5.

Sen. Sanders (D-VT) — Would provide rebates for the purchase and installation of an additional 10,000,000 photovoltaic systems by 2025. The amendment failed by a vote of 40-58.

Sen. Wicker (R-MS) — Would make third-party certification optional under the Energy Star Program. This amendment did not receive a vote.

Sen. Moran (R-KS) — Would extend publicly traded partnership ownership structure to energy power generation projects, transportation fuels and related energy activities. This amendment did not receive a vote.

Pipelines and Tax

While most of these amendments dealt specifically with the Keystone XL Pipeline, inferences can be made as to how different members of Congress might view energy infrastructure issues. Congress will be considering broader energy infrastructure legislation later this year, and many of these same issues are bound to reappear.

Sen. Franken (D-MN) — Would require the use of U.S. materials for construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. This Senate voted to “table” (defeat) this amendment, 53-46.

Sen. Heitkamp (D-ND) — Would require a study on the resources required to ensure safe transportation by pipeline and rail of petroleum products. This amendment was not voted on.

Sen. Wyden (D-OR) — Would impose a federal excise tax on products derived from Canadian oil sands, equivalent to taxes on petroleum. This amendment failed by a vote of 50-47.

Sen. Cardin (D-MD) — Would provide additional protections for water resources in close proximity to Keystone XL Pipeline. This amendment failed by a vote of 36-62.

Energy Exports

While the Keystone XL legislation was ostensibly about imports, the number and variety of amendments dealing with energy exports demonstrate Congress’ willingness and concern in the energy paradigm shift of the U.S. potentially becoming a major energy exporter. These issues are likely to resurface multiple times through legislative means and oversight hearings.

Sen. Markey (D-MA) — Would prohibit the export of oil from the Keystone XL Pipeline. The Senate voted to table (defeat) the amendment by a vote of 57-43.

Sen. Cruz (R-TX) — Would remove the longstanding prohibitions on most exports of crude oil. This amendment did not receive a vote.

Sen. Cruz (R-TX) — Would expedite approval of liquefied natural gas exports to member countries of the World Trade Organization. This amendment failed by a vote of 53-45.

Sen. Hoeven (R-ND) — Would streamline the development of cross-border energy infrastructure like pipelines and transmission lines. This amendment did not receive a vote.

Environmental Protections

Every energy bill on the Senate floor over the last two decades has attracted a number of environmental issues and amendments, and the Keystone XL legislation was no exception.  There is a pent-up frustration among mostly Republican members regarding environmental issues which will almost certainly reappear on other energy measures or during the appropriations process. Likewise, a number of democratic members sought to underscore their agreement with the Obama administration on issues and also show where they are frustrated by either a lack of movement or a policy disagreement.

Sen. Gillibrand (D-NY) — Would place hydraulic fracturing under the jurisdiction of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency. The amendment was rejected by a vote of 35-63.

Sen. Murkowski (R-AK) — Would release certain wilderness study areas from management for preservation as wilderness. This amendment failed by a vote of 50-48.

Sen. Moran (R-KS) — Would delist the lesser prairie-chicken as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The amendment failed by a vote of 54-44.

Sen. Lee (R-UT) — To require new, expedited procedures for issuing permits to drill for oil and gas on federal lands. The amendment was rejected by a vote of 51-47.


These and other amendments resulted in a weeks-long debate over energy and environmental policy issues that have had limited consideration and debate in Congress in recent years. Many of these issues will command Congress’ attention in 2015 and 2016. Assuming the president vetoes the legislation as expected, the fate of the pipeline will remain up in the air and Congress will continue to push for its approval. Climate change — and particularly the president’s policies to mitigate it — will be a key oversight topic for House and Senate Republicans. Democrats in both chambers will continue to raise the issue of man-made climate change — particularly the degree to which humans influence it — especially as we get closer to the 2016 presidential elections. At the same time, Republicans will continue to oppose the president’s environmental regulatory policies on issues ranging from air quality to endangered species, mainly due to the threats those policies could pose to jobs and local economies. Stakeholders should closely monitor developments with these and other key energy and environmental policy issues over the next several months, as many of them will come up and be vigorously debated for the remainder of the 114th Congress.

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