Advice for the 114th Congress

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This week marks the beginning of the 114th Congress. It’s been documented how drastic a change this will be from the 113th and how historic (biggest Republican majority since 1929, hope that’s not a bad omen). What’s been said of the 113th is that it is one of the productive of all time. They passed 279 bills, the second fewest in history. In my book, that’s a home run. I’d rather not have Congress passing any more bills than is absolutely necessary to run the Federal government. Legislation needs to stay on the books long enough to generate a history of whether it accomplished its task or not. I’m a small business owner so their impact isn’t as significant to me as say a medium to large-sized business or one that is a heavily regulated industry. Leave what we have in place and let’s see how things pan out.

That’s my first advice. My second is for every member of Congress to Brené Brown speak on vulnerability. I’m a big fan of TED Talks. If you don’t know what that is, I highly recommend you check out their website. They are an organization that likes to spread ideas and to get people talking. They bring interesting people to discuss their history, viewpoint, research, or anything else of interest. Brené studies human interaction. Her talk on relationships and vulnerability, of value to all, would be particularly suited for those in Washington. I’ve provided a link below.

http://goo.gl/M1ZDYG

Would love to hear your comments. Please share them below.

Jeffrey Hastie
@jhastie963
jeffrey@freevoter.com

Objective Review of Keystone Pipeline

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I’m an old-fashioned politician. I believe issues should be decided on the merits rather than just supporting the viewpoint of a political party or friendly interest group. In my 17 years as a county legislator, when a new law is introduced and I’m asked “how are you going to vote,” I always say, “I don’t know yet. I need to hear from the proponents and opponents, as well as have discussions with my colleagues.”

I provide this introduction because this week we learned that both houses of Congress will finally be voting on the Keystone pipeline, and I wonder if the members of Congress and the public have performed such an independent review of the issue. I received emails in the past few years from environmental groups condemning this pipeline as if it would be an environmental nightmare.  For example, the Natural Resources Defense Council says, “The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would transport raw, toxic tar sands oil right through the American heartland . . . and threatens to wreak environmental havoc on both sides of the border.”  That is very strong language that sounds overly dramatic, but is it true?

The federal government’s review of the pipeline has now taken six years, which appears unreasonable. The company deserves a decision. Unfortunately, the issue has been locked in a political struggle as the House passed legislation approving the pipeline seven times, but it has been blocked by the Senate and opposed by the President.

As we watch this debate in Congress in the coming week(s), I thought you might appreciate some background on this issue and the arguments pro and con, which I located at this link:  http://www.buzzle.com/articles/keystone-xl-pipeline-project-pros-cons-and-other-facts.html

Let’s all objectively review the environmental, economic and other concerns related to this pipeline.

Background:

The original Keystone pipeline project is a 2,100 mile-long pipeline that transports crude oil extracted in Canada by a Canadian company called TransCanada Corp. While the Keystone project began in Canada in 2005, the US gave approval for the construction of a trans-border pipeline in March 2007 that stretched from Canada to Illinois and it began operations in 2010. In 2008, TransCanada submitted a request for a newer fourth phase of the pipeline – the Keystone XL project – a 1,179 mile-long crude oil pipeline across the US-Canada international border. The northern leg of the 36-inch wide pipeline plans to connect Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska. The southern leg connects Steele City with Port Arthur, Texas. Since the northern leg passes through the international border, it is pending approval from the US Department of State since 2008, causing members of Congress to propose legislation for the approval.

Pro:

1) TransCanada claims the project will provide 40,000 direct and indirect temporary jobs. However, the number of jobs is hotly debated and may be much less, while the number of permanent jobs will be in the hundreds.

2) The project expects to improve US energy security. Currently, the Gulf Coast region depends on oil imported from countries like Mexico and Venezuela and the amount available has been declining. Piped oil supplied from Canada, which is believed to be the world’s second most oil-rich region after the Middle East, will provide a stable oil source.

3) Besides energy security, the project will help ensure that North American will become energy independent by 2035. The US has been steadily increasing its oil production, and oil production in Canada has seen a similar rise, and linking the production of the two countries will confer independence from oil imports from distant, unfriendly countries.

4) The pipeline project will contribute more than $3 billion to the US with the largest contribution through property taxes collected at places the pipeline passes through.

5) Proponents of the project argue that it will have a positive environmental impact. The world-class technology used will minimize the emission of greenhouse gases. Also, independent analysts have found that the chemical composition of the oil from this project will be identical to oil sources from regions like Nigeria, Mexico, and Alaska, which are already piped inside the US. The US is also thought to have the tightest refinery regulations on the planet, and we are already refining Canadian oil.

6) If the project is not approved, then the US will still be dependent on its oil sources in the Middle East, and the transport of oil over long distances will definitely increase the carbon footprint, as compared to direct piping of oil from Canada.

7) It is much safer to transport crude oil by pipelines than by railroads or tankers, where the chance of explosions is higher. The chances of spillage with piping is minimal and any problems are usually controlled quickly. The Keystone XL project would have one of the safest pipelines equipped with sensors that send data to monitoring satellites every 5 seconds.  If this oil is not piped – it will certainly be transported in less safe ways.

Con:

1) Studies claim that utilizing the tar oil supplied by the pipeline will result in a large amount of greenhouse emissions, which will end up raising the Earth’s temperature. This will bring about a drop in the US GDP and have a negative impact on extreme weather conditions and the economy.

2) The pollution caused by extraction of tar oils is much higher than what is caused by conventional oils. Tar oils mixed with sand, water and clay have routinely been described as the ‘dirtiest fuel.’ Also, there are fears that by approving this project, US technology will become almost completely dependent on this polluting energy source.

3) Extracting the tar oil from the ground is messy and complicated, as it requires pumping steam directly into the ground, and this process will cause fragmentation of the pristine forest where the oil is located, besides killing many species of migratory birds and interfering in animal life cycles. The planned pipeline travels through very sensitive terrain which can’t afford any adverse impacts.

4) In case of spills and leaks, conventional oil-cleanup technologies may not work efficiently in this project, because the physical properties of tar oil differ from conventional oil. The main difference is that tar oils, rather than floating on water, sink to the bottom. Also, this acidic oil is corrosive in nature, which increases the chances of spills.

5) Oil spills can damage underground drinking water supplies. This can cause the spread of diseases, while affecting the crop yield of the land, since the pipeline will travel under mostly agricultural areas.

6) Previously, when oil companies extracted tar oil in Alberta, the waste was dumped in open ponds, which became so toxic that fish developed tumors and birds were killed there.

7) Approving the project will reduce investment in cleaner technologies that focus on minimizing environmental impacts.

Finally, an excellent review can be found in the US State Department’s executive summary of the final supplemental environmental impact statement: Keystone Final SEIS Exec Rep

Now you have the facts necessary to form an opinion on the Keystone pipeline. If you were a member of Congress, how would you vote?

Jim Maisano
Jim@FreeVoter.com

Some Advice To President and Congress

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The press events by President Obama and congressional leaders this week after Election Day demonstrate the tension between Democrats and Republicans in DC, not that this is any surprise, yet it was troubling the President still claims he will bypass Congress by using his alleged executive authority to reform our flawed immigration system. While there is little doubt that immigration reform has been delayed too long – including both a path to citizenship for the tens of millions of illegal residents and better border security – serious legal, political and policy questions exist as to whether this is a thoughtful action by the President. He appears inconsistent after speaking throughout the week about the need for cooperation and bipartisanship. President Obama needs to be more respectful of Tuesday’s election results as a New York Times analysis of the exit polls found:

“Just two years after Mr. Obama’s re-election, the midterm results underscored just how far he has fallen in the public mind. Nearly six out of 10 voters on Tuesday expressed negative feelings about his administration, according to exit polls. For every two voters who said they had cast ballots to support Mr. Obama, three said they were voting to express their opposition to him. The electorate was deeply pessimistic about the country, with seven out of 10 describing the economy as not so good or poor and eight out of 10 expressing worry about the direction of the economy in the next year.”

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans should end the victory lap and roll up their sleeves for serious governing over the next two years. Despite the GOP’s success in the 2010 midterm elections, the 2012 elections brought major losses, and they may face similar losses in 2016 if they are deemed to be the cause of further gridlock and partisanship. There is only one path to 2016 GOP election success and that is governing in a bipartisan and cooperative manner, and the GOP must work better with President Obama. Yes, it will be difficult as the President’s record on bipartisan governance is weak. In watching the President over the last 6 years, it often appears that his definition of bipartisanship is that he proposes a law and the Republicans should just vote for it – see Obamacare. Regardless, if the Republicans want 2016 success, GOP congressional leaders MUST govern in an open, inclusive and bipartisan way for two important reasons:

1)  The US Senate map is much more difficult for the GOP in 2016. Republicans will be defending 24 Senate seats in 2016 (and the Democrats just 10), and those states include Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Florida – all won by President Obama twice.

2) The 2016 presidential election will be tough for the GOP.  A CNN article explains how both parties now have a “wall” of states that are reliable in presidential elections. The Democrat “Blue Wall” is 18 states and DC equaling 242 electoral votes. The Republican “Red Wall” is 22 states equaling 179 electoral votes. This, of course, is an enormous edge for the Democrat candidate since it takes 270 to win. Republicans will need an impressive record of results and bipartisan governing over the next two years to have any hope of competing in the states included in the Democrat’s “Blue Wall.”

So here’s my advice to the President and Congress – Tuesday’s election results clearly demonstrate that the country wants you to govern together in a cooperative and bipartisan manner. If Republicans or Democrats fail to accept this advice, you will be punished at the polls by the voters in 2016 – they are giving you a two year test, so good luck!

Jim Maisano
Jim@FreeVoter.com