Politics

Energy and Environment Star in First Act of New Congress

Date: February 16, 2015

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By Molly Moore

The 114th Congress had barely opened its doors when the subject of climate change rolled up to Capitol Hill, unpacked its suitcase, and settled in for what appears to be a long stay in federal politics this year.

“The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate,” President Barack Obama said during his State of the Union address. This summer the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will move forward on a key element of the president’s climate change plan by finalizing the first limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. In the fall, world leaders will gather for the potentially pivotal United Nations climate summit in Paris.

The first bill introduced during Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s term, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act, would expedite the approval of the hotly contested pipeline and allow Canadian company TransCanada to send tar sands oil through America to the Gulf Coast. During the debate over the bill, which passed the Senate and received a veto threat from President Obama, senators submitted 247 amendments — mostly about environment and energy — and held roll call votes for 42 of them.

Among these votes were three statements on climate change. The Senate overwhelmingly passed a measure acknowledging that climate change is real, but one amendment affirming that human activities contribute and another suggesting that the United States should change its energy policy to reduce climate change both failed to achieve a 60-vote majority.

But the vast majority of the amendments proposed during the Keystone debate never saw a vote, and were likely written as signals to various agencies, industries and other groups that the Senate is interested in those topics.

One amendment introduced by Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), was designed to prevent the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement from completing their rewrite of the Stream Protection Rule, a regulation that limits mine waste in waterways. Even though senators did not vote on the amendment, it sends a clear message that Congress is likely to stay involved in the workings of federal agencies.

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