Barrasso, Murkowski tell Politico Morning Energy of some GOP plans for energy, environmental policies

A Congressional attack on President Barack Obama’s recent use of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to block oil exploration in the Arctic and on the Atlantic seaboard is coming. So are Congressional Review Act efforts to nullify sundry other Obama administration environmental protection rules.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told Politico Morning Energy Friday that “her team” is examining methods to overturn Obama’s Dec. 20 OCSLA decision.

“We think we can make the argument that it does fall within review, but again that’s what the smart legal teams are doing,” she told the online publication.

Senator John Barrasso, R-Wyo., also spoke to Politico Morning Energy. He was quoted as saying that the GOP Congress would take an “opposite approach” when it comes to environmental policy and that the CRA would be deployed to go after at least a few regulations.

Barrasso is the new chair of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee.

Murkowski told the magazine that her staff at the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which she chairs, have built a “laundry list” of possible regulations for which CRA nullification would be attempted.

Maria Cantwell, Tom Carper to lead Democrats on key Senate environment committees in 115th Congress

U.S. Senate Democrats, meeting this week to name a new minority leader to take over following the impending retirement of Sen. Harry M. Reid of Nevada, have chosen two veteran legislators to be the party’s leaders on the chamber’s two key environmental policy committees.

Sen. Maria E. Cantwell of Washington will be the ranking member on the Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, while Sen. Thomas R. Carper of Delaware will be his party’s senior member of the Committee on Environment & Public Works.

Cantwell, 58, is a veteran politician, having first been elected to public office in 1986. She served in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1993-1995 before returning to Congress as a U.S. senator after defeating her Republican predecessor Slade Gorton in 2000.

The former technology company executive has prioritized a comprehensive energy bill and worked with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to move that measure through the Senate during the 114th Congress. That bill, S. 2012, is now in a conference committee following passage of similar legislation by the House of Representatives.

Titled the Energy Policy Modernization Act, S. 2012 would mandate some improvement in the energy efficiency of buildings, encourage renewable energy production by requiring owners of transmission lines and transformers to assure that the electricity grid can accommodate power generated by solar panels and wind turbines, and reduce legal and bureaucratic obstacles to the export of natural gas.

S. 2012 would also permanently renew the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The conference committee consideration of S. 2012 has not yet been scheduled. With only a few weeks remaining in the 114th Congress, it is not clear whether the measure can be sent to President Barack Obama’s desk before adjournment.

“We are currently focused on whether we can reach agreement on the energy bill in this Congress,” a spokesperson for Cantwell who preferred not to be named said in a statement.

Earlier in her career Cantwell successfully convinced Congress to increase the size of Mt. Rainier National Park, establish the Wild Sky Wilderness in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and forbid oil exploration off Washington’s Pacific coast.

Murkowski will continue to chair the energy and natural resources committee, though Republicans will have either a three- or four seat Senate majority in the upcoming Congress, depending on the outcome of a pending election in Louisiana, instead of the 54 seats in the 100-member chamber they now hold.

Carper, 69, was also first elected to the Senate in 2000. He is a former governor of the First State and also served in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1983-1993.

During the 114th Congress Carper voted for a bill that would override Obama’s decision to deny a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline and authorize construction of mammoth fossil fuel project. He also supported a 2013 bill that aimed to prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from requiring a Clean Water Act permit for the discharge of registered pesticides into lakes, rivers, and streams.

On the other hand,  Carper has often been a defender of strong environmental protections. For example, in January he voted against a resolution that would have killed EPA’s Waters of the United States rule and also voted “no” on two 2015 Senate resolutions that would have nullified the Obama administration’s electric power plant regulations.

Sen. John A. Barrasso III, R-Wyo., will be the chairman of the environment and public works committee during the 115th Congress.

Barrasso, who first came to the Senate in 2007, has established a reputation as being a firm denier of climate science. In that respect he represents little change from the committee’s current chairman, Oklahoma’s James M. Inhofe.

As of the time this article is published there has been no announcement of the other members of either committee.

UPDATE, Nov. 18, 2016, 11:44 am: A statement by a spokesperson for Sen. Maria Cantwell was added.

Senate votes approval of KXL pipeline bill

The U.S. Senate approved Thursday the contentious bill to cut the President out of the process of deciding whether to authorize the KXL oil pipeline.

The vote followed two more days dedicated, in part, to debate on a series of amendments to the bill.

Nearly all of those amendments failed to reach the 60-vote threshold for adoption.

Senators voted on about a dozen amendments this week, following a successful filibuster of S.1 by minority Democrats late last week, and several of them implicated the nation’s environmental policy:

  • proposal by Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., to assure that communities along the pipeline route are notified of the risks of leaks or ruptures was defeated, 37 ayes to 67 nos.
  • Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., sought to require a certification by federal pipeline regulators that they have adequate resources to assure safety; it was beaten back by Republicans, 40-58.
  • An amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to provide tax rebates for solar energy systems failed on a 40-58 vote.
  • An attempt by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., to force the removal of the lesser prairie chicken from the federal list of endangered and threatened species was voted down, 54-44.
  • Montana GOP Sen. Steve Daines offered an amendment that would have forced presidents to obtain the approval of state governors and legislatures before designating national monuments; it failed, 50-47.
  • An amendment by Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., that would have put the Senate on record as recognizing the impacts of climate change on the nation’s infrastructure was voted down, 47-51.
  • Alaska’s senior senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski, proposed to end wilderness study area status for all areas not designated by Congress as wilderness within one year of being considered; that amendment was rejected on a 50-48 vote.
  • Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., offered an amendment that would have permanently re-authorized appropriations into the Land and Water Conservation Fund; that amendment lost by one vote, 59-39.
  • An effort by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., to include in the bill a federal renewable energy standard was defeated, 45-53.

After debate and votes on all amendments, Democrats again sought to delay a vote on the merits. This time they were unsuccessful, as the Senate shut off debate with a 62-35 vote for cloture.

Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado, Thomas Carper of Delaware, Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, Joseph Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, and Mark Warner of Virginia voted with all of the chamber’s Republicans to move to a final vote on the bill.

The final vote mirrored that margin, with the same Democratic senators voting with the majority GOP.

S.1 now moves back to the House of Representatives, where Republican Speaker John Boehner of Ohio will have to decide whether to ask that chamber to vote to approve the amendments approved by the Senate or, instead, send the different House and Senate versions to a conference committee.

Josh Earnest, a White House spokesperson, reiterated Thursday that President Obama will veto any bill that attempts to deprive him of authority to decide whether to grant the permit necessary for a Canadian corporation to build the KXL pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border.

“[O]ur position on the Keystone legislation is well known,” Earnest said. “And if, in fact, the legislation that passed the House also passes the Senate, then the President won’t sign it.”

COMMENTARY: New Colo. Sen. Gardner’s votes on climate change amendments are proof of unwillingness to lead

Cory Gardner, Colorado’s brand-new Republican U.S. senator, has had a charmed career. The “cherubic” legislator from the Centennial state’s eastern plains rose in about nine years from obscurity to one of the state’s most powerful politicians.

He got there because he’s likable, because he had the good fortune of running against an incumbent U.S. senator who ran a less-than-stellar re-election campaign, and because he promised Coloradans that he would be a different sort of Republican – one more attuned to the changing priorities of a politically moderate Western state than are many of his GOP colleagues in Washington and elsewhere.

This week, as the Senate debated a bill to green-light the controversial KXL oil pipeline, Gardner had the chance to prove that his words were sincere. He failed to do that and, in the process, reinforced fears that he will give more priority to the desires of fossil fuel interests than to the imperative of a cogent national response to anthropogenic climate change.

Gardner had four chances to acknowledge, with his vote and, maybe, with his voice, that humans are causing Earth’s climate to change. When he had the opportunity to vote for amendments to S.1, the KXL pipeline bill, offered by Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Brian Schatz, D-Haw., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that forthrightly recognized that indisputable fact, Gardner blew it. In each case he voted “no.”

To be fair, few of his GOP colleagues voted any differently and, during his campaign last year, Gardner never took a clear stand on climate change. Nevertheless, the senator represents a state that stands to be severely impacted by climate change, with a serious potential of lower winter snow pack, earlier snow melt that reduces summer flows in the state’s rivers and streams and the volume of water in its reservoirs, and increasing drought on the senator’s native Great Plains. Colorado is a state that depends heavily on tourism, as people from all over the world travel to its mountains to ski, snowboard, and otherwise revel in the wintry white, and its burgeoning high technology sector draws talented employees who value the state’s equable climate and four-season playground far more than they do the parochial desires of oil company executives for increased profits at the expense of a warmed planet.

Environmental policy is central to Colorado’s economy, quality of life, and culture. Gardner’s votes this week indicate a surprising willingness to overlook that reality. It is difficult to believe that Gardner is not familiar with the clear scientific consensus that climate change currently causing rapid and dramatic change all over the planet is anthropogenic in origin. It is likewise difficult to believe that Gardner does not know that the widespread and ever-growing combustion of fossil fuels accounts for the heating of  our atmosphere and oceans.

The senator’s votes this week are a sad reminder that even those politicians who cannot count on a consistent trend of support for one party or the other are willing to disregard their constituents’ justifiable and genuine concern for the future of their state, the nation and civilization itself. They also tell every Coloradan that Cory Gardner is not a leader. He has not shown a willingness to be honest about humanity’s impact on the air we breathe and the oceans upon which we depend and, apparently, is comfortable with policies that will only add to the harm caused by our society’s intentional and destructive chemical experiment in the atmosphere.

Senate kills two more proposals to acknowledge anthropogenic climate change

The U.S. Senate again refused on Thursday to acknowledge the human role in climate change, voting down two proposals that would have forced members to go on record as recognizing scientific reality.

Senators first rejected an amendment to the underlying bill authorizing the KXL oil pipeline that specified that climate change is “real” and “caused by human activities” and “has already caused devastating problems in the United States and around the world.” The proposal, offered by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also included language that encouraged research into “clean fossil fuel technology.”

The Senate tabled the amendment, 53-46, with only one Republican – Mark Kirk of Illinois – voting with Democrats to allow floor debate on its merits.

Later, an amendment introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that also acknowledged human impacts on the atmosphere and oceans and that emphasized the importance of developing non-fossil fuel energy sources was also tabled.

The chamber, with every one of 54 majority Republicans opposed to it, voted 56-42 to table it. Democratic senators Heidi Heitkamp of oil-producing state North Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri also voted to deny consideration of its merits.

Majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced late Thursday night that the Senate would not consider additional amendments to S.1. A vote on whether to cut off floor debate on the bill itself is expected early next week.

President Barack Obama has threatened to veto any bill that interferes with his authority to decide whether or not to grant the permit required to construct the KXL pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border.

COMMENTARY: Inhofe’s distortions and ignorance demean Senate and debate over oil pipeline

That famous climate change-denying curmudgeon James M. Inhofe is at it again, and this time his willful denial of facts and slander of scientists is casting a sad shadow over the U.S. Senate as it starts a new Congress with a debate over the controversial KXL oil pipeline.

Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, is well-known for his refusal to accept that human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases are changing the climate of Earth. Among the greatest hits of this man’s obtuse failure to recognize reality are these memorable comments:

  • “[T]his 97% [of climate scientists accepting human-caused global warming], that doesn’t mean anything. I named literally thousands of scientists on the floor…and these were top people.” – Source
  • “Regarded as the ‘greatest scandal of our generation’ by the UK Telegraph, “Climategate,” as the scandal is called, discloses what scientists over the years had been telling me: the so-called ‘consensus’ is simply wrong.” – Source
  • “In short, some parts of the IPCC process resembled a Soviet-style trial, in which the facts are predetermined, and ideological purity trumps technical and scientific rigor. ” – Source
  • “The claim that global warming is caused by man-made emissions is simply untrue and not based on sound science.” – Source

During the 114th Congress, which started earlier this month after an election in November that saw Republicans gain control of the Senate and expand their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, Inhofe will chair the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee. He is, therefore, in an influential position and one might expect that, as such, he might choose his words more judiciously. Unfortunately, the 80-year old from Tulsa continues to display both both belligerence and ignorance.

Last week, Inhofe added to his infamy. During a debate on a proposed amendment to ban the export of oil carried in the KXL pipeline, Inhofe marred the Senate’s deliberation by lambasting scientists and by, again, raising the false accusation that climatologists are lying about mankind’s impact on the planet’s climate. He also misrepresented the meaning of a scientific paper to give credence to his misguided beliefs.

“[E]ven if someone is a believer that the world is coming to an end, that global warming is going to kill everybody and it is all due to man-made gas, if they truly believe that still, even in spite of that, it is not going to reduce worldwide emissions. I guess that is what they want to do, so we hear about the consensus,” Inhofe said.

“I remember at that time I made a speech on this floor questioning the science. I said, ‘I assume there are scientists out there are not part of the IPCC – that is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – and that those scientists know better. They know what the reality is,'” Inhofe continued. “I started getting phone calls. I got phone calls from scientists.”

Inhofe explained that 58 “recognized scientists,” including climate change denier Richard S. Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had contacted him.

He later explained that there is no consensus in the scientific community that climate change is happening because “63 percent of weather-casters believe any global warming that is occurring is the result of natural variation and not human activities.”

Inhofe also claimed that a paper published in Nature during 2013 casts doubt on the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

“Nature journal, which is a well-respected journal, in their 2013 paper said that there is considerable uncertainty as to whether [increases in extreme climate variability] is occurring,” the Oklahoman said.

He was referring to an August 2013 paper that concluded only that, in a warmed world, the range between high and low temperatures would not necessarily expand. The paper articulated no conclusions about the impact of climate change on mean temperatures. As lead author Dr. Chris Huntingford, a climatologist at the Center for Ecology and Hydrology in the United Kingdom, explained in an email message:

“Our Nature paper strictly analyzes only year-to-year variability (fluctuations) in temperature, and demonstrates that in some parts of the world, this is actually going down. Elsewhere it is going up. This may be seen in both direct measurements and in supporting climate model simulations. This goes against the view
that maybe, as general global warming occurs, everywhere will additionally see larger year-to-year swings in temperature.

“However, we do not at any point offer evidence against a general on-going background and upwards warming trend. Detection and attribution statistical studies show that the observed average increasing temperatures are almost certainly a consequence of the burning of fossil fuels.”

Inhofe also invoked the discredited “Climategate” claim that climatologists have fabricated research. Multiple reviews have concluded that such claims are false.

“Climategate was when they analyzed some of the things IPCC had said and they had all these quotes and emails that totally debunked the credibility of IPCC,” Inhofe asserted. “Still today they are talking about it.”

These arguments, steeped in a deeply flawed understanding about the nature of science and a willingness to deceive the American people about what scientists know about our changing climate, are despicable. The question whether the Obama administration should grant the permit needed to build the KXL pipeline across the Canada-U.S. border is an important one; some members of Congress who support the pipeline argue that constructing it will result in lower overall greenhouse gas emissions than blocking it. Others make the point that the oil that would move through it is filthy and likely to further delay a needed transition away from fossil fuels. Whatever their perspectives, many contributors to the debate on KXL that has happened in both chambers of Congress this month have made their arguments cogently, honestly, and intelligently.

That is, unfortunately, not the way that Mr. Inhofe has done it. He’s not the only one, of course, but here’s the thing that bears emphasis: Members of Congress have a privilege to say whatever they want on the floor of the Senate or the House of Representatives, but they should not abuse that privilege by making comments that are utterly foolish and that do nothing to advance an intelligent discussion of either energy policy or an American response to the growing climate change crisis.

Mr. Inhofe should do the people of this country the courtesy of learning what science is, how it works, and why it indisputably teaches that the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will change the climate before he knocks the efforts of climatologists. And is it too much to ask that he, or at least his staff, read a scientific paper before, yes, lying about its conclusions on the floor of the United States Senate?