The U.S. Senate cast key votes on the fiscal 2014 budget resolution Friday that sent a clear message on climate change: we won't stand in the way of executive action to cut the carbon pollution from our nation's power plants.
The Senate also stood up for public health, rejecting a bid to poke an industry loophole in new standards to cut down on the mercury and other toxic chemicals in the air we breathe.
The Senate made a serious mistake, though, in calling for approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
President Obama will decide whether the pipeline gets built, after assessing whether it's in our national interest to send some of the dirtiest oil on the planet through the American heartland to be shipped overseas through the Gulf of Mexico. It's a terrible idea that would widen tar sands production and have a devastating impact on our climate. Too many senators haven't yet connected those dots.
On the urgent matter of cutting carbon pollution from our nation's power plants, though, the Senate majority got it right.
The body's lead climate denier, Sen. James Inhofe, R-OK, sponsored an amendment that would have blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from using the Clean Air Act to set needed standards to limit carbon reductions from power plants.
Inhofe, who has received $1.9 million in campaign contributions from the oil, gas and electric utility industries, went to bat for the fossil fuel industry. The Senate majority, though, stood up for the American people, voting 47-52 to reject this misguided measure.
We just finished, in this country, our hottest year on record.
Heartland ranchers and farmers lost billions of dollars in the worst drought in 50 years. Arctic ice melted to its lowest levels ever recorded. And superstorm Sandy killed 130 Americans and did $80 billion worth of damage.
We have to take action against climate change.
Power plants are the single greatest source of the carbon pollution that's driving this climate chaos. They account for nearly 40 percent of our national carbon footprint.
That has to be reduced.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has the authority, and the responsibility, to set standards to reduce power plant carbon pollution.
It has proposed such standards for new power plants. Those need to be finalized and implemented.
Now we need to move forward on standards for existing plants.
And we need to do so now.
The President has pledged to take action on climate change: this is the action we need. The Senate vote puts fresh wind in those sails.
Now Mr. President, let's move forward together.
In a separate vote, the Senate upheld new EPA standards under the Clean Air Act to reduce the amount of mercury and other toxic chemicals in the air we breathe.
Sen. Dan Coats, R-IN, proposed an amendment that would have created a needless loophole in those standards that would have weakened the safeguards we need.
The Senate wisely rejected that approach, in a 46-53 vote.
The Senate needs to grasp the impact the Keystone XL pipeline would have on our climate. Tar sands crude production has a carbon footprint more than twice as big as the production of conventional crude oil. And turning a vast expanse of Canada's boreal forest into an industrial waste land is hardly the way to protect one of the last truly wild places on Earth.
What the Senate expressed in other ways, though, is exactly what Americans - by wide margins - believe: that we need to strengthen air quality safeguards and take real action against climate change.
It's time to cut the carbon pollution from our power plants, for the sake of our children, our future and our health.