Some good news for a change from the other Washington today: The U.S. Senate has resoundingly rejected the latest Republican plot to open the Arctic Refuge’s Coastal Plain to oil drilling, defeating an amendment offered by Pat Roberts of Kansas intended to allow big oil companies like Shell or BP to begin despoiling one of our nation’s greatest national wonders.
The amendment, to Senate Bill 1813, needed sixty votes to pass; it received only forty-one, with fifty-seven senators voting no and two senators not voting.
Several Republicans joined most Democrats in voting no; three Democrats joined the remainder of the Republicans in voting yes.
The Republicans who voted against drilling were Scott Brown, Bob Corker, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Marco Rubio. Democrats who voted for drilling were Mark Begich (of Alaska), Claire McCaskill,and Joe Manchin.
Surprisingly, Big Oil’s favorite Democrat, Mary Landrieu, voted no on the amendment — perhaps she was lobbied to cast a sensible “no” vote by her good friend Maria Cantwell, who has been in the vanguard of fights to protect the Arctic Refuge in our nation’s capital.
The Pacific Northwest’s delegation voted as follows:
AYE on the amendment (for drilling): Mark Begich, Lisa Murkowski (Alaska); Mike Crapo, Jim Risch (Idaho)
NAY on the amendment (opposed to drilling): Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray (Washington); Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden (Oregon); Jon Tester, Max Baucus (Montana)
Senator Cantwell’s office has not yet issued a statement on the vote. We’ll be in touch with her staff tomorrow to get her reaction, and will update this post accordingly. We’ll also check in with our friends at the Alaska Wilderness League to see if they have any comment.
Last week, the Senate defeated another bad amendment aimed at allowing TransCanada to build its proposed Keystone XL pipeline without having to undergo environmental review and public scrutiny. That amendment, offered by John Hoeven, received the unanimous support of Senate Republicans, plus a handful of Democrats, but it still failed because it did not reach the sixty-vote threshold.
After Hoeven’s amendment failed, 350.org founder Bill McKibben congratulated the forty-two Senate Democrats who stood up to the oil industry and warned that the battle to stop Keystone XL is far from over.
“Today’s vote was a temporary victory and there’s no guarantee that it holds for the long run,” he said. “But given that this thing was a ‘no brainer’ a year ago, it’s pretty remarkable that people power was able to keep working, even in the oil-soaked Senate. We’re grateful to the Administration for denying the permit and for Senate leadership for holding the line.”
“The reason this fight has been so hard is because of the financial power of the fossil fuel industry, so that’s what we’re going after now,” McKibben added. “We’ve been playing defense for months, now we’ve got to quickly go on offense. Going forward, we’ll be working with the huge majorities of Americans who want to end subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. We’ve learned a lot, not all of it savory, about how the political process works, and we’re going to put that to use.”
We at NPI strongly believe that more drilling is not the answer to our energy security problem. That’s why we oppose the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline as well as risky onshore and offshore drilling schemes, especially in protected areas like the Arctic Refuge.
We need to be investing in renewable energy alternatives, developing a a smarter electric grid, and stepping up conservation — not perpetuating our fossil fuel addiction. Extracting and burning hydrocarbons worsens air quality, creates more pollution, and makes the climate crisis worse. We’ve known for a long time that fossil fuels are dirty and finite. Yet the industry that extracts and sells them continues to dictate our nation’s energy policy. It’s time for that to change.