The Senate GOP's new energy legislation, much of it already passed by the House of Representatives, has zero chance of clearing the Senate. But it was unveiled anyway Thursday, courtesy of Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. It's the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act of 2012 (DEJA). As it turns out, there's nothing "new" about it. Here's what it's really about:
“As Chairman of the Senate Western Caucus, I know how important this bill is for job creation and American energy production,” said Sen. John Barrasso. “It takes responsible steps to streamline the leasing and permitting process for oil and natural gas production and stops the administration’s attack on coal workers across America. As the White House likes to say, we can’t wait any longer on this legislation to be passed by Congress and signed into law.”And there's Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy:
“The Obama administration has chosen to reject a domestic energy production agenda that will increase American-made energy and create hundreds of thousands of American-made jobs. Our economic and energy stagnation demands action.”In short, the same old, same old right-wing attacks on the administration for its alleged over-regulation of fossil-fuel operations. Which comes as no surprise since Republicans have been making this argument since forever. This is a bit confounding to environmental advocates who support President Obama's clean-energy initiatives but still have their own sharp criticisms of the administration's fossil-fuel policies, including the overly loose way leasing of public lands is handled. Making regulations looser still is what half of the individual bills in the package are about. Most of the rest are meant to open up more public land faster to energy leasing.
Industry, of course, loves the package. Here's Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute:
“Every policymaker says they want to create jobs. This legislation provides a clear opportunity to do so. It would approve the Keystone XL pipeline, putting tens of thousands of Americans to work almost immediately. It also would expand access, expedite permitting and require a cumulative analysis of certain EPA rules and regulations.Sen. Hoeven was behind similar Keystone XL legislation introduced in January that was meant to get around President Obama's rejection of the pipeline. That got 44 votes, all of them Republican.
The 36-inch, 1,700-mile tube designed to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast will not create tens of thousands of new jobs. Not immediately, not ever. But for a Republican Party that has stood in the way of even modest efforts at actually creating or saving jobs, and has backed the elimination of hundreds of thousands of public-sector jobs, pretending to care about job creation is a crucial element of anything they do between now and the November election.
While touting legislation that they know won't pass, they can blame Obama for rejecting on environmental grounds the proposed route of the northern part of the pipeline. That's so even though most observers believe the rejection is temporary since builder TransCanada was encouraged by the White House to reapply for a permit once it had adjusted its route to go around some ecologically fragile lands in Nebraska. It has since done so and the proposed new route is under review. The GOP legislation in DEJA would greenlight Keystone XL for all but its Nebraska portion, making the project fait accompli for its entire length.
Keystone XL has its own problems—leaking into drinking and irrigation water, raising the price of Midwest gasoline and diesel, boosting air pollution because tar sands oil is more difficult to refine than crude—but the real concern derives from the extraction and burning of the vast tar sands resource itself. Tar sands oil has been flowing into the United States for a long time. Its carbon footprint is at least 20 percent higher than crude oil, its water consumption far greater, its impact on the land far more destructive.
A supplement to the original Keystone XL environmental impact statement is now in the works. Together with some other groups, American Indian tribes are protesting that the whole EIS should be done over. Tribes were excluded from the EIS process despite the fact that this is a violation of the rules. The pipeline crosses Indian land, ancient burial grounds and other places in which Indians have a stake.
None of all this makes any never-mind to those who would profit directly from Keystone XL and the continued exploitation of the tar sands. Among them are the ultra-right billionaire Koch brothers, whose energy and chemical empire has provided the financial wherewithal to enable them to pour gobs of dough into the campaigns of scores of Republican candidates, all of whom love the fossil-fuel industry and many of whom deny the changes in climate that prolific burning of those fuels has created. More than a fourth of the tar sands oil that comes into the States is imported by Koch-held operations.
As noted, unlike in the House, the Senate energy legislation is going nowhere. But that is not its purpose at the moment. As Texas Sen. John Cornyn, head of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, says, the package is "a very concrete blueprint" for what would happen if the GOP gains control of the White House and Senate in the Nov. 6 elections.