Clean Air and Public Safety Triumph over Keystone XL and Dirty Energy in the Senate

In a major victory for public health and the environment, the Senate defeated three dirty amendments on Thursday. One amendment would have forced the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline for tar sands oil. One would have delayed the cleanup of the second largest source of toxic industrial air pollution. And one would have expanded offshore drilling.

These measures would have filled our air with more dangerous chemicals and threatened the livelihoods of farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and tourism workers with contaminated water and oil spills.

Fortunately, the Senate chose to protect the interests of American people instead of bowing to the pressure of dirty industries.

Big Oil was the biggest loser in Thursday’s votes. It pushed hard for Senator Hoeven’s (R-ND) amendment designed to override the nation’s long-standing environmental review process and force the approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The lawmakers who voted for the Keystone XL amendment received a total of $17.2 million from oil interests since 1999. That’s an average of $308,000 per senator. Taken together, the Senators who voted in favor of the tar sands pipeline accepted more than 500 percent more oil money than those who voted against it.

Yet even after pouring all that money into Congress, the oil industry could not change the fact that the country doesn’t want to rush to judgment on a massive dirty energy project—especially one that will have sweeping consequences for America’s air, water, and climate.

In the run up to the vote, pipeline supporters preyed on people’s concerns about rising gas prices. They claimed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would lower costs at the pump, yet TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline, has admitted that by diverting oil out of the Midwest, the pipeline would increase the price Americans pay for Canadian oil by up to $4 billion a year.

Cars that go farther on a tank of gas, bus rapid transit and light rail systems, and sustainably grown biofuels are transportation solutions that actually save drivers money. Building the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, meanwhile, will only line the pockets of giant oil companies.

Irresponsible expansion of offshore drilling would do the same. America is already drilling enormous amounts of oil. Last year alone, the United States produced more oil than any time since 2003. What did all this activity do to gas prices? Not much. Americans wound up paying $4 a gallon at the pump last spring, and Exxon Mobil’s took in $41.1 billion in annual earnings—up 35 percent from 2010.

Thanks to public outcry from concerned voters, lawmakers defeated Senator Vitter’s (R-LA) call for more offshore drilling and the rest of the dirty amendments on Thursday. The language in Vitter’s measure would have, in effect, tossed out the deliberative process of deciding whether offshore drilling should occur and instead, just throw open virtually our entire coastline.

Senator Collins’ (R-ME) amendment was also designed to make life easier for polluters. It would have gutted Clean Air Act standards for industrial boilers and incinerators. Operators would have been given a free pass to continue releasing pollution that causes heart attacks, strokes, and other grave conditions.

Thanks to public outcry from concerned voters, the Senate defeated all these dirty amendments. Yet even in the face of defeat, the oil industry and its allies in Congress aren’t letting up. The Senate will vote next week on yet another amendment to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and mandate drilling in coastal areas and in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

NRDC and our partners will call on senators to stand firm once again on behalf of public health and clean energy. Click here to tell your lawmakers to reject dirty amendments on what is otherwise a sensible, bipartisan transportation bill.