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Breaking: Senate Rejects Keystone XL Pipeline

The Senate voted this evening to reject the Keystone XL pipeline that would have carried Alberta tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The measure failed by a vote of 41-59. Sixty votes are required to pass a bill out of the Senate. The project has been stalled for six years due to widespread public opposition.

The bill easily passed the House of Representatives last week, where it was on the floor for the ninth time since Republicans took control of that chamber. The Senate, controlled by Democrats, has not brought it to the Senate floor until now. The Senate bill was introduced by Democratic Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, hoping to score points with voters in her oil-dependent state going into a closely contested runoff with her Republican opponent, Congressman Bill Cassidy. Cassidy was the sponsor of the latest bill in the House.

After introducing the bill last week, Landrieu worked feverishly to round up the 60 votes required to pass any legislation in the Senate, as anti-pipeline activists expressed outrage and charges of political grandstanding on Landrieu's part. Landrieu responded indignantly to Kansas Senator Pat Roberts' suggestion that she called for the vote for political reasons, saying on the floor of the Senate, "I was very disappointed in the senator from Kansas. I think he said he was ‘bemused’ that we would be debating this, because he thinks it’s some kind of political issue. “For him to come to the floor and make those remarks ... is beneath the dignity of the state he represents and the Marine Corps.” (Roberts is a former Marine).

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell did some showboating of his own, referring to the bill during debate as "Congressman Bill Cassidy's Keystone jobs bill." He continued that it was "common sense, a shovel-ready jobs project that will help thousands of Americans find work." But this weekend, on ABC's This Week, Russ Girling, CEO of TransCanada, the company building the pipeline, admitted that it would create at most 50 permanent jobs along with several thousand temporary ones, referring vaguely to 42,000 "direct and indirect ongoing and enduring jobs." The Tampa Bay-Times PolitiFact feature rated that statement "false," saying he based that figure on temporary multiplier jobs that would be created only during construction to service the workers, such as hotel workers, waitresses and entertainers.

Landrieu's desperation led to even more hyperbole on the Senate floor during the debate:

Meanwhile, prior to the vote, protestors amassed outside Landrieu's Washington, DC home where they installed a large inflatable pipeline. Four protesters were arrested outside Delaware Senator Tom Carper's office. Carper has generally been pro-environment but indicated he would vote to approve Keystone XL. Another seven were arrested at Colorado Senator Michael Bennet's office.

Two representatives of the campaign opposing Keystone XL in Nebraska where a lawsuit is currently blocking construction, Bold Nebraska director Jane Kleeb and rancher Randy Thompson, delivered a letter to Senator Mitch McConnell Monday night.

It said, "We are really sick and tired of being told how safe this project will be by people who live fifteen hundred miles away and are fully insulated from the inherent risks associated with it. Would you be so anxious to vote “yes” if this pipeline were going to run through your property where your family lives, works and plays? Our families will not watch our land and water get polluted so Canada can get their risky tar sands to the export market. You oil-soaked Senators should be ashamed of yourselves and if you have the nerve to talk about the constitution or property rights again, we will be there to set the record straight.”

Environmental groups prepared for the worst, as the vote locked close up until roll call, with approval seeming to hinge on perhaps a single vote. The Natural Resources Defense Council put out "8 discredited talking points pushed by Keystone XL proponents in Senate debate."

And California Senator Barbara Boxer, a Keystone XL opponent said, “What does XL stand for? To me it stands for extra lethal. This is a serious environmental hazard.”

Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada is opposed to the pipeline but he allowed it to come to a vote for the first time. Reid has joined with a multitude of environmental justice groups in calling on President Obama to veto it, which the President in the last week has strongly suggested he would if it passed. Soon-to-be Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell said it would be the first item of business when he assumes leadership of the Senate in January.

"We applaud the Senators who stood up for the health of our families and our climate by fighting back against this big polluter-funded sideshow," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. "There’s no good reason the Senate should have wasted all this time on yet another meaningless push for Keystone XL. Since day one, the decision on the pipeline has belonged to President Obama, and he has repeatedly said he will reject this pipeline if it contributes to the climate crisis. As there is no doubt that it does, we remain confident that is precisely what he’ll do."

Kleeb agrees with Brune, "Today’s defeat of Keystone XL should send a strong signal to the incoming GOP-led Congress that farmers and ranchers will never back down to their oil soaked intentions. We call on President Obama to stand up and reject Keystone XL now."

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The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."

While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.

On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."

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