January 21, 2015

As Keystone Debate Continues, Gillibrand Introduces Amendments To Protect Clean Water, Hold Oil & Gas Companies Accountable

Gillibrand Introduces Three Amendments to Protect Clean Water, Close Halliburton Loophole

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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced three new amendments to the Keystone XL Pipeline Act that would protect clean drinking water and hold oil and gas companies accountable for spills. Speaking on the floor of the Senate, Senator Gillibrand reiterated her opposition to the Pipeline project but said the bill must be made better for Americans.

“This project has many risks and few advantages, and I will be voting against it, but if this legislation does pass in the Senate, we should at least try to make it a better bill,” said Senator Gillibrand. “There is no excuse why we can’t turn the Keystone XL Pipeline Act into an opportunity to protect our clean drinking water, and ensure that polluters have to pay to clean up their own messes.”

“This amendment says simply to Big Oil:  If you break it, you buy it,” said Senator Robert Menendez, who jointly filed Amendment 65 along with Senator Gillibrand. “The best way to prevent oil spills is to make sure oil companies like TransCanada pay for all of the damages oil spills cause. If you hurt small businesses or communities, you fix them.  If you hurt someone, you make it right.  If you pollute, you pay.  This amendment removes the cap on big oil companies' liabilities, helping to make sure those companies do the right thing by the American people should accidents happen.”

The three amendments include:

 Amendment 48, to remove the Halliburton loophole from the Safe Drinking Water Act, and finally require gas storage and gas drilling companies to comply with the clean water laws of the United States. Every other energy industry already has to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act, and this amendment would finally hold the gas industry to the same environmental and public health standards as everyone else.

Amendment 65, introduced with Senator Menendez, to make oil companies financially responsible for the damages they cause when they spill oil onto our land and into our waterways. The current cap on liability is only $350 million dollars, including cleanup and compensation; this amendment would lift the burden from taxpayers and remove the arbitrary limit on what companies can pay.

Amendment 76, to allow homeowners and business owners whose property has been damaged by a natural disaster to use their federal disaster assistance funds to upgrade their property’s energy efficiency. Currently, disaster assistance can only be used to replace what was lost, even if the property was not up to current standards. This amendment would let property owners not only protect against the next disaster, but also save energy, reduce emissions, and lower their costs.

 The full text of Senator Gillibrand’s speech as prepared for delivery is below.

“Mr. President, I rise today to introduce three important amendments to S.1, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act.

 “First of all, I want to make it very clear that I strongly oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline plan. I have serious concerns about the effect this project would have on our health and safety. I have serious concerns about its environmental impact. And I am skeptical of the real, permanent number of jobs it would create.

“This project has many risks and few advantages, and I will be voting against it. 

“But if this legislation does pass in the Senate, we should at least try to make it a better bill. There is no excuse why we can’t turn the Keystone XL Pipeline Act into an opportunity to protect our clean drinking water, and ensure that polluters have to pay to clean up their own messes.

“First, I have introduced Amendment Number 48, which would remove the Halliburton loophole from the Clean Water Act, and finally require gas storage and gas drilling companies to comply with our clean water laws. Every other energy industry has to do it, our farmers have to do it, construction companies have to do it, yet our gas companies have been exempt for years.

“It should give my colleagues pause that fracking companies are allowed to ignore our clean water laws when they pump chemicals into the ground. In this country, when we turn on the tap for a glass of water, we need to know that what we are drinking is safe. So let’s be fair, and hold the gas industry to the same environmental and public health standards as everyone else.

“Second, I have worked with Senator Menendez on Amendment Number 65, which would make oil companies financially responsible for the damages they cause when they spill on our land and leak into our waterways.

“Under current law, when an on-shore oil spill occurs, the company that causes the spill is only liable for a paltry $350 million dollars in damages – including cleanup and compensation. Yet a major oil spill into a river or lake, like the one this week in Montana, could easily result in damages well above that arbitrary limit.

“Hardworking taxpayers should never be stuck paying for an oil company’s mess, and local property and business owners should not have to slog through endless litigation, just to get the compensation they deserve from a negligent oil company. This amendment would finally put the burden on companies to clean up after themselves.

“Third, I have introduced Amendment Number 76, which would allow our homeowners and business-owners whose property has been damaged by a natural disaster, to use federal disaster assistance funds to upgrade their property’s energy efficiency. Under current law, disaster assistance can only be used to replace what was lost, even if that property was antiquated and not up to current standards. But we need forward-looking policies. 

“Due to the effects of climate change, we’ve seen a growing number of natural disasters in recent years, from blizzards to hurricanes to raging fires. When we pick up the pieces after a major storm, we want to make sure that we’re rebuilding in the smartest way possible…and that includes not only protections against the next disaster, but also proactive measures to save energy, reduce emissions, and lower costs.

“As I said, I do not support the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. But if this new Congress is intent on sending this bill to the President, then we need to make sure it is a bill that keeps our drinking water safe, holds oil companies accountable for their own messes, and encourages efficiency in our new economy.

“Thank you. I yield the rest of my time.”