Senate approves Keystone XL, fracking amendments

Early flashpoints in the Biden administration’s environmental agenda came to a head last night on the Senate floor, as Republicans used a marathon session of budget votes to put Democrats on the record on drilling and the Keystone XL pipeline.

While nonbinding and largely symbolic, the handful of energy and environment votes during the budget resolution “vote-a-rama” that went into this morning’s early hours offered a preview of the legislative fights to come, with Republicans seeking to wield tensions within the Democratic caucus against Biden’s early executive actions.

Democrats initially turned the tables on one attack by uniting as a caucus behind a Republican amendment intended to protest the halting of new oil and gas leases on federal lands.

The proposal by Sen. John Barrasso would create a budgetary placeholder to help states hurt by Biden’s order.

The Wyoming Republican noted that much of those leasing revenues go to Western states, which use it for essential services such as public schools.

“One of the many crushing consequences of the moratorium is eliminating hundreds of millions of dollars for K-12 education for students funding all in these states,” Barrasso said ahead of the vote.

The amendment will “protect students and schools from this misguided moratorium by restoring these lost funds to the states.”

The new Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member noted that oil and gas revenues had contributed $1.3 billion to New Mexican public schools alone in 2019.

That prompted Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) to announce his own support for Barrasso’s proposal, which he sought to reframe.

“My friend from Wyoming and I disagree on many things, we disagree on the impact of this policy in the immediate and we disagree on the speed of the energy transition to a zero carbon economy,” Heinrich said.

“What we do not disagree about is that these communities, we support their schools,” said the Democrat. “And throughout this transition, we should support the people who have kept the lights on.”

Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the final tally on Barrasso’s amendment, with Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) the lone “no” votes in the chamber.

Democrats’ tactics against the amendment echo those employed by Republicans to defang a messaging vote offered by Senate Democrats in 2015, when Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) rallied nearly all GOP senators behind an amendment by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) declaring climate change real and not a hoax (E&E News PM, Jan. 21, 2015).

Republicans had more success peeling off Democrats from oil and gas producing states to weigh in on hydraulic fracturing, which Biden supports.

Senators voted 57-43 to adopt an amendment by Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) that aimed to prevent the White House Council on Environmental Quality and EPA from promulgating rules or guidance banning fracking in the United States.

Joining all 50 Republicans in backing the amendment were Colorado Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, Heinrich, Sens. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico and Jon Tester of Montana, and Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Manchin and Tester again joined all Republicans in backing an amendment by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) that expressed support for approving the transboundary permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which was adopted 52-48.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), however, pushed a substitute amendment overnight that effectively stripped the KXL and fracking provisions.

The Senate also approved, with Manchin’s support, an amendment from new Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) related to the Clean Water Act’s reach.

The amendment, according to a summary, was aimed at “preserving the continued implementation of the consistent, clear, and functional categories and exclusions of jurisdictional waters in the Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” which was promulgated by President Trump.

The hours of voting ended with approval of the budget resolution 51-50 early this morning, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie. The House already passed its budget resolution but must do so again because of the Senate’s amendments.

The goal is not to launch an appropriations process. Rather, the budget resolution allows Democrats to continue the process of reconciliation to approve Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill by simple majority in the Senate.