01.21.15

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) On The Keystone XL Pipeline

As the most senior member of this body, I have served in both the majority and the minority, with three Democratic Presidents and four Republican Presidents, with Democratic and Republican House majorities.  I know that we can be productive.  The Keystone Pipeline legislation the Senate is considering today is not productive.

I had hoped that we could begin the 114th Congress by showing the American people that Congress is putting the needs of hardworking American families over those of powerful special interests – from job creation to charting a sustainable energy future for this country.  We should be considering legislation to support the Highway Trust Fund that supports tens of thousands of jobs across the country.  We should be considering tax legislation, to make investments in our small, local businesses and encourage energy efficient construction.  We should be finding ways to support the educational pursuits of our children, so that we can maintain our status as the premier leader on the global stage.

Instead, we have spent last week, this week, and possibly more considering legislation that puts Canadian tar sands, which are intended for export, not for use in the United States.  This pipeline will support 35 permanent jobs.  Just 35.  Not hundreds.  Not thousands.  Thirty-five.  It is hard not to question whether the new Senate majority is truly focused on the needs of hardworking Americans.

Some who support advancing this legislation claim that the pipeline is truly “shovel ready.” This is an overstatement at best.  They claim that the project has been thoroughly studied and analyzed already, and that the administration has sat for six years with no decision on the permit. Even before the Nebraska Supreme Court released its decision just a week and a half ago on the location of this new pipeline and the sensitive Nebraska environment, the Republican leadership put this bill ahead of many important issues facing the country.

The decision by the Nebraska Supreme Court did not clarify lingering questions about the process.  In fact, a majority of the justices said that the decision to circumvent the public process and block Nebraskans’ ability to raise concerns about the pipeline was unconstitutional.  Four of the seven justices said that it was unconstitutional under state law.  Under their state procedure, you need a supermajority, five of the seven justices to halt this project, so the landowners’ appeal was rejected.

Adding insult to injury, the legislation approved two weeks ago by the House and under consideration here by the Senate further limits the rights of those most impacted by this pipeline.  It removes consideration of all appeals to the pipeline from local federal courts, and puts them before the Washington, D.C. Circuit.  Forcing landowners in the states through which this pipeline will run to make their appeals directly to the Washington, D.C. Circuit says that Congress believes that Washington knows best.  Frankly, the people of my state of Vermont, and I suspect across the country, would prefer to trust the courts in their states. We should be showing the American people that Congress cares more about the public process and the public’s access to their courts, than about the wishes of foreign special interests. That is why I have offered an amendment that would strike the judicial review provision and restore the role of local federal district courts in reviewing challenges arising from the Keystone Pipeline.

Now, the Majority Leader has promised an open debate and amendment process as we move forward with consideration of this bill, and I appreciate that.  I certainly have concerns about circumventing what would be normal court procedures and the President’s approval process, and I want to be able to address that. But more than that, I hope this debate can be an open and honest conversation not about a pipeline that will support special interests, but about the direction in which our country is moving, on sustainable energy, on job creation, and on issues fundamental to all Americans, Republicans or Democrats, all Americans. As fundamental as who is going to have access to our courts. Will it just be special interests or the American people? I am afraid this bill says the special interests and I prefer the American people.

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