Senate Kills Climate Change Hoax Conspiracy With Keystone Amendments

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The amendments don't actually get much done, but we won't be hearing much about climate change hoaxes from the Senate anymore. Yuri Gripas/Reuters

When the Senate voted Thursday to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, the bill they passed was padded with a few extra measures.

In an effort to get Republicans to make hard decisions on the Keystone XL bill, Democrats deluged the bill in recent days with amendments calling for hundreds of other concessions, mostly pertaining to climate change and environmental policy. A whopping 246 amendments were proposed by members from both sides of the aisle, but only six were ultimately passed before the Senate voted on the bill.

Here are the four major issues the amendments in the Senate’s Keystone XL bill address:

1. Climate change is not a hoax

This resolution, introduced by Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, simply acknowledged "that climate change is real and not a hoax.” The amendment was approved 98-1, with even Senator Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, author of the 2012 book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, voting in favor of it.

But senators rejected another amendment that would establish that humans significantly contribute to climate change, leaving Inhofe the opportunity to voice his view with an updated angle:

“Climate is changing, and climate has always changed and always will,” Inhofe told the Senate Wednesday night. “The hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change climate. Man can’t change climate.”

Now, the only remaining Senator who officially holds that the whole idea of climate change is a hoax is Senator Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, who was the only senator to vote against the resolution.

2. Tar sands companies should pay into an oil spill cleanup fund

This amendment, introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, “expressed the sense of the Senate” that oil companies dealing in nonconventional, bitumen-derived oil (like the tar sands oil that would flow through the Keystone XL pipeline) should pay into a federal fund for oil spill cleanups. The payment would come in the form of an 8-cent-per-barrel tax.

Under current law, conventional oil pays that tax, but tar sands are exempt from paying it. That measure was adopted 75-23. The amendment doesn’t change anything, but it does get a lot of senators on the record supporting that action, so we’re likely to see it come up again soon.

As ThinkProgress pointed out, the Senate declined to pass two other amendments that would have actually forced this change in the tax code: Senator Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, proposed an amendment to prevent the Keystone XL bill from taking effect until the spill-fund tax included tar sands crude, and Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, proposed an amendment to immediately change the tax code to close, as he put it, the “outlandish tar sands loophole." Both amendments failed.

3. Maybe we should have more energy-efficient buildings

One adopted amendment, introduced by Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, aimed to improve energy efficiency in buildings by establishing a “voluntary, market-driven approach to aligning the interests of commercial building owners and their tenants to reduce energy consumption.” It also requires that any buildings leased by the federal government that do not already bear an Energy Star efficiency label disclose their energy use data “where practical.”

Another, introduced by Senator Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, directs the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to distribute information about energy efficiency financing programs to school buildings.

4. Private property should be protected 

This next amendment simply reiterates that private property is a constitutional right. The amendment, introduced by Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, passed 64-33.

While Cornyn’s amendment does nothing substantive, the Senate rejected another amendment, introduced by Senator Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey,  that would have actually prevented Nebraskan landowners who live in the path of the Keystone XL pipeline from getting their land seized for construction. The Nebraska Supreme Court recently ruled against holdout landowners, clearing the way for Transcanada, the pipeline company, to build on their property.