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May 06, 2014

A Toxic Assault in the Senate

It started off innocently enough. After months upon months of delays, the U.S. Senate was finally prepared to bring Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman’s (R-OH) bipartisan Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act to the floor for a vote this week.

But, an actual vote in the U.S. Senate on a substantive bill is a rare thing during this era of unprecedented obstruction and gridlock.  And instead of giving the bill a fair shake on the floor, big polluters and some in the Senate are waiting in the wings to hijack the bill with a cadre of toxic amendments. Now, if they succeed, they won’t just derail this energy efficiency bill - they will deliver a series of body blows to our air, water, and climate.

Remember - the underlying goals of this bipartisan bill are to create jobs, conserve energy, and save consumers money. But, if passed, the toxic amendments being proposed would wipe all of those benefits off the table. Take a look at what’s being considered:

  • An amendment to block the first-ever protections from climate-disrupting carbon pollution from new and existing coal-fired power plants.

  • An amendment to approve the dirty and dangerous Keystone XL tar sands pipeline;

  • An amendment to prevent any government agency from accounting for the costs of the extreme weather and health risks caused by the climate crisis;

  • An amendment to expand fracking and expedite the shipment of gas drilled in America overseas

Energy efficiency? Forget about it. This dirty fuels wishlist buries the best parts of the underlying legislation under a heap of coal ash, fracking chemicals, and petroleum coke. Consider how each of these amendments would affect our families and our nation.

Scrapping the Environmental Protection Agency’s common-sense carbon pollution safeguards is a giveaway to the coal industry that will lock us into to a dirty energy future our families and our climate cannot afford.  Coal-fired power plants are the largest single source of climate-disrupting carbon pollution in the nation, and these safeguards are our chance to start curbing these greenhouse gases and protecting the health of our families now.

Fast-forwarding the shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG)  fracked out of our backyards to markets overseas means American families will pay the costs while massive corporations rake in the profits. Our communities get astronomical amounts of fresh water contaminated with undisclosed toxic chemicals, unsafe air, and dangerous methane emissions while gas companies make sales in Europe and Asia. The more LNG that’s exported, the more fracking there will be -- and the worse the effects will be on Americans.

Extreme weather cost Americans $140 billion in 2012. The costs of healthcare related to asthma spurred by carbon pollution and smog are skyrocketing, currently at more than $50 billion a year and rising. Government spending related to climate disasters amounted to $100 billion in costs - about $1,100 coming out of the pockets of every  taxpayer. That’s real money coming out of our econom. Even ExxonMobil is trying to account for the costs of climate disruption in its economic projections - but the amendment under consideration in the Senate would ensure our government could not.

And, of course, the dirty and dangerous Keystone XL is a pipeline into world’s dirtiest and most carbon intensive fuel: tar sands. Tar sands are more corrosive than conventional crude, more dangerous to transport, and nearly impossible to clean up in the event of a spill. Yet this amendment would bypass executive authority, injecting Congress into the decision-making process that is already underway at the State Department and force all of the risks of this tar sands pipeline onto the American people just to help Canadian companies ship oil overseas.

What’s worse? All these new attacks on healthy communities and a stable climate come just as the historic, comprehensive, peer-reviewed National Climate Assessment indicates every region of our nation will face disastrous outcomes if we don’t act to curb the climate crisis now.

These toxic attacks in the Senate would only move us in the opposite direction, toward more fracking, more dirty fossil fuels, more threats to our health and our communities, and less stability for American families. That’s why it’s vitally important that each of these amendments are turned back and defeated.

-- Radha Adhar, Washington Representative, Sierra Club



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