Bruce Braley explains his support for Keystone XL

Last week, Representative Bruce Braley (D, IA-01) voted for a bill that would force the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. He did not send out any press release explaining that vote.

A Bleeding Heartland reader contacted Braley about his support for Keystone XL and shared the congressman's reply. I've posted it after the jump, along with information challenging some of Braley's assertions.

Hi [name],

I understand your concerns regarding the Keystone XL pipeline project. This is an important issue and I'm glad you have shared your views with me.

As you know, pipeline infrastructure is not only a key component of transporting energy, but an opportunity for job creation. The Keystone XL Pipeline, which was supported by a majority of Iowans in a recent Pew Charitable Trusts survey, would provide Iowans with $465 million in wages and benefits over the next 25 years.

With 41,110 miles of pipeline running through every one of our state's 99 counties, Iowans are no strangers to pipeline infrastructure. With our own state in mind, I have supported Keystone XL as long it meets all environmental and safety requirements, and it's done with the input of people living in the affected area.

While Keystone XL will be good for our economy, I voted for a number of amendments to improve the bill, including amendments that would require TransCanada to offset any additional greenhouse gas emissions, require the President to sign off on air protection plans, and that would keep oil transported through Keystone XL in the U.S. for domestic purposes. I also voted for amendments to require the courts to deal with property rights issues before construction begins and allow individuals to go to court in the most appropriate circuit if they feel their private property has been infringed upon.

I also support improvements that would ensure that Native American tribes and cultural and sacred sites are protected, require that the Secretary of Transportation deem the infrastructure safe before a pipeline is built, and guarantee that Keystone XL will reduce gas prices for Americans.

Finally, the U.S. State Department recently performed an Environmental Impact Study, concluding that construction of the Keystone Pipeline would not have a significant impact on global warming, as refusing pipeline construction will have no impact on the amount of oil extracted from Canadian oil sands. While this study carries weight, I also am doing what I can to make sure this is indeed the case - such as supporting the amendments requiring that any additional greenhouse gas emissions be offset. I will continue to weigh this issue, and help make sure that we are doing what's best for Iowa's economy, but doing it in the most thoughtful ways.

Thank you for contacting me.

A few points are worth remembering:

Independent analysts dispute the job creation estimates offered by supporters of Keystone XL.

The State Department's draft supplemental environmental impact statement on Keystone XL has some glaring problems:

Experts who helped draft the report had previously worked for TransCanada, the company looking to build the Keystone pipeline, and other energy companies poised to benefit from Keystone's construction. State released documents in conjunction with the Keystone report in which these experts' work histories were redacted so that anyone reading the documents wouldn't know who'd previously hired them. Yet unredacted versions of these documents obtained by Mother Jones confirm that three experts working for an outside contractor had done consulting work for TransCanada and other oil companies with a stake in the Keystone's approval.

Incredibly, statistician David Malitz found that the State Department's draft supplemental environmental impact statement failed to calculate the expected size and rate of oil spills per pipeline mile per year. Spills like the one in Arkansas, which recently made national news, would be extremely costly in economic and health terms. Malitz found

that based upon reported historical industry experience, we would expect about 1.9 spill incidents per year from the 875 mile proposed pipeline, with an average total spill volume per year of 805 barrels (almost 34,000 gallons).  About 1/8 of these incidents on average (0.126) would be "large" (the SEIS classified spills of 1,000 to 20,000 barrels as "large").

Over a longer time span, say a decade, we would expect about 19 spill incidents with an aggregate spill volume of about 8,000 barrels, enough to fill about half of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.  We would expect about 1.3 of these spills to be "large," which means that on average we would expect a "large" spill to occur about once every 8 years or so.  Clearly, based upon reported historical industry performance, spills in general and large spills in particular would not be a rare occurrence for the proposed pipeline.

Braley did support the amendments he cited above, which were intended to protect the environment, public safety, public health, and property rights. He failed to mention that the House Energy and Commerce Committee rejected every single one of those amendments. Braley then voted to approve the bill anyway (pdf containing roll call). Most of the Democrats on the committee opposed the bill.

Braley claims to support "improvements that would ensure that Native American tribes and cultural and sacred sites are protected," but there is no record of his vote on a rejected amendment that would have done so. He also did not vote on a failed amendment that would have delayed implementation of the bill "unless the Energy and Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives finds that operation of the Keystone XL pipeline is projected to reduce gasoline prices in the United States." (Supporters don't want to admit that Keystone XL is likely to increase domestic gasoline prices.)

Braley supports keeping tar sands oil transported through Keystone XL in the U.S., but even supporters of the pipeline admit that much of the oil would be exported after being processed in American refineries.

Braley writes in the e-mail posted above, "I have supported Keystone XL as long it meets all environmental and safety requirements, and it's done with the input of people living in the affected area." But the bill he voted for would explicitly shut down any further environmental and safety reviews before the pipeline is built.

Braley writes that he supports "amendments requiring that any additional greenhouse gas emissions be offset." Any such amendment is doomed to fail when the full House of Representatives considers this bill, probably sometime next month. In any case, there is no realistic way to offset emissions on this scale: "The 181 million metric tons of (CO2e) from Keystone XL is equivalent to the tailpipe emissions from more than 37.7 million cars."

A different Bleeding Heartland reader informed me that Braley's staff in Washington told environmental advocates last week that the congressman had "heard a lot" from the Laborers Union and other organized labor voices in support of Keystone XL. The organized labor movement is quick to denounce corporate propaganda regarding certain public policies on wages and benefits. I would like to see more healthy skepticism when corporations exaggerate the number of jobs that could be created by environmentally devastating projects.

  • Good analysis. Thanks

  • You hit all the right reasons why Braley's excuses don't wash.

    Tom Harkin doesn't have any trouble opposing it, and he is a long-time and vocal supporter of labor.

  • Still plenty of time

    To file to run against Braley in a primary.  I think if you found a woman who went at Braley from the left, she could get 35-38 percent of the vote against Braley, even more if he goofed.

    Obviously the establishment is behind Braley, but if people truly believe in their cause they should just run.  Most people dodge debates when they are in the catbird seat so to speak however.  

    • I don't think so

      The activist base generally likes Braley and thinks of him as a progressive. I've talked with a lot of people who were surprised to learn about some of his more conservative votes. I can't think of anyone who would challenge him in the primary.  

      • Braley

        You're right for the most part.  I think if someone actually took the time to make a case against Braley it would open some eyes and I think someone could get votes against him simply because they would prefer a woman on the ticket.

        Bruce is our best speaker we have that's ready for prime time, but you can knock him off balance and he can look impatient.

        I'm not saying that I would support a Braley challenger in a primary, but I do think there is room there on the left.  Will it be a lot?  The money and ads he would run would make it seem like there wasn't, but if you could get him to debate in a fair and honest setting, he can be knocked off his game.  Roxanne Conlin didn't take her discussions with Krause and Fiegen seriously in my estimation and there were a couple of times when they knocked off her talking points.

        Braley does his homework, but I wouldn't personally call Lange and Hartsuch particularly tough opponents.  Whalen was more impressive and nuanced than those two in my view.  Lange only came close because of outside spending.  

        • I still think

          the best performance I saw or listened to in any political debate last year was Braley's against Lange in their Iowa Public Radio debate. He got a little rattled during the "Iowa Press" debate, but he still came across a lot better than Lange. In general, I think he presents himself very well and does a good job answering questions.

  • So correct me if I err...


    "This measure(overall) is the 'fruit' of COMMITTEE business...not a floor vote before the full House of Representatives? Article cite: "Braley writes that he supports 'amendments requiring that any additional greenhouse gas emissions be offset.' Any such amendment is doomed to fail when the full House of Representatives considers this bill, probably sometime next month."

    (end my posted FB comment) there's the full house vote to consider?  If so, let's see what happens.

    • the full House will vote in May

      probably. But when bills like this come up in the House, all the Democratic amendments get defeated almost all the time (on mostly party-line votes, just like happened at the committee level). That's been the case with many other bills relating to oil or the energy sector since Republicans took control of the House.

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