Senate Debates Keystone XL Hitting Hard on Impacts to Climate
In the first day of debate of the Senate floor following its Monday vote to proceed, familiar arguments for and against the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline were trotted out, showing that the discussion wasn't going to bring any revelations and that no one was likely to be persuaded to change their minds.
Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia joined his Republican colleagues Orrin Hatch of Utah, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John Hoeven of North Dakota in touting the pipeline's benefits, while Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Bernie Sanders of Vermont spoke out forcefully against it.
Keystone XL: The Wrong Direction: http://t.co/DffAqOclHw
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 13, 2015
According to Senator Whitehouse, the debate will continue for several more weeks before a vote takes place, with approval virtually inevitable given the bill's 60 sponsors. It'll then be up to President Obama to veto it as he's indicated he would.
The arguments mostly focused on the economic and jobs benefits of the pipeline, with supporters saying it would provide energy independence and enhance national security and opponents pointing to the small number of jobs and limited economic benefits compared to the environmental impacts. One popular argument from last year—that the pipeline would cause U.S. gas prices to decline—wasn't much in evidence for obvious reasons.
Pipeline supporters made effusive claims about the project's economic value. Senator Hoeven was especially extravagant, inexplicably claiming it would create "good-paying jobs that provide relief for budgets of households across the country."
"This is the largest shovel-ready project that’s ready to go, and it’s been held up for more than six years," said Senator Hoeven. "America got into World War II and won the war in less than six years. If we’re going to get economy growing and get people back to work, we can’t hold private investment up."
"This bill will also create thousands of jobs," Senator Manchin added. "I’ve heard argument, they're not going to be permanent. I don’t know of any permanent jobs we have after we build a bridge. But we have a lot of good construction jobs."
Senator Whitehouse tore apart the jobs argument with a battery of facts, calling the jobs figure, which both sides agree on, "a pittance" and comparing it to not only to other potential job creation vehicles but to the actual current job creation rate as well.
"There’s been an awful lot of talk about jobs in the last few days, but this opening gambit both obviously and demonstratively has nothing to do with jobs," he said.
"If this were about jobs, bring up instead the Shaheen/Portman energy efficiency bill, the bipartisan bill that the Republicans spiked last year. That bill has been estimated to produce nearly 200,000 jobs, more than quadruple the 42,000 jobs supported by the construction of the pipeline. If this were about jobs, bring up the highway bill. That bill was estimated to support 3 million jobs a year, 70 times the number of jobs from Keystone. 42,000 is a pittance compared to that. Right now the economy is adding over 70,000 jobs every week. In the three weeks we’ll argue about this bill, we’ll add five times as many jobs as it provides. We match Keystone in just four average days of job growth and yet we’re going to spend three weeks on this. If this were really about jobs, bring up an infrastructure bill, the kind our Republican friends have relentlessly spiked when they were in the minority. We could do really big things on jobs. You get 13,000 jobs on average for every billion spent on infrastructure. And we need the infrastructure. But instead we’re going … this."
Pipeline opponents talked extensively about climate change and the environmental impacts of building the pipeline, something that was largely ignored by its supporters. Senator Hatch said in passing, "Building the Keystone pipeline will be better for the environment than not building it," although he provided no facts to back this up. He also referred to "phony environmental arguments and accused unnamed "special interests" of trying to "muck up the process."
Senator Merkley hit hard on the issue of climate change.
"We’re debating whether or not the dirtiest oil in the world, the tar sands from Canada, are going to brought through the U.S. in a pipeline like a straw to Port Arthur, Texas to a tax-free export zone so it can be exported out of the U.S.," said Senator Markey. "What’s in it for our country? We’re going to take the environmental risks, but the benefits flow to the Canadian company."
"The key question is whether pipeline would contribute to global warming," he said. "Are there better ways to create jobs that would enhance rather than damage our economy? Building the Keystone pipeline would open the faucet to massive new reserves of tar sands that takes us in opposite direction of where we need to go. it takes us down the road to catastrophic climate change. Global warming is not some imaginary concept based on computer models of something that might happen 200 years from now. I have special interest: it’s called planet earth. It trumps the Koch brothers, it trumps the oil industry."
Senator Bernie Sanders again offered his amendment, which was defeated in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week, to put the Senate on record as acknowledging the reality of climate change.
"It is the sense of Congress that Congress is in agreement with the opinion of virtually the entire worldwide scientific community that; one, climate change is real; two, climate change is caused by human activities; three, climate change has already caused devastating problems in the U.S. and around the world; four, a brief window of opportunity exists before the U.S. and the entire planet suffer irreparable harm and, five; it is imperative that the U.S. transform its energy system away from fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy as rapidly as possible."
Other senators have said they will also offer amendments, which are scheduled to be voted on next week.
Several pipeline opponents suggested that by dubbing the Keystone XL approval bill "SB 1" and making it the first item of business in the new session of Congress, the Republicans were clarifying their priorities, and they didn't dovetail with Senator Sanders' amendment.
"With all of the issues that our country faces, here we are debating a Canadian project," said Whitehouse. "A new majority has taken over the Senate and their first bill, their opening gambit is the Keystone pipeline. What is going on?"
He answered his own question.
"I'll tell you what I think we are doing here, and I think the facts support this conclusion," he said. "What’s going on here is that the Republican party has become the political wing of the fossil fuel industry. There’s always been a trend to this within the Republican party. But since the Republican appointees on the Supreme Court gave the fossil fuel industry the great fat, juicy gift of its Citizens United decision, the fossil fuel industry control over Republicans in Congress has become near absolute."
"That premise clarifies what is happening here," he continued. "The fossil fuel industry has a shiny new Republican majority and it wants to take it out for a spin. That is what this Keystone opening gambit is about. This is somewhere between performance art, a show of obedience and a show of force. Well, fine. Take us out for a spin. Have your fun. But the laws of nature that turn carbon pollution into climate change and into ocean acidification aren’t going away."
Watch today's senate debate of SB 1 here:
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Low Levels Lead to Generational Impacts<p>Researchers exposed inland silverside fish to bifenthrin, levonorgestrel, ethinylestradiol, and trenbolone to levels currently found in waterways.</p><p>"Our concentrations were actually on the low end" of what is found in the wild, DeCourten said, adding that it was low amounts of chemicals in parts per trillion.</p><p>Bifenthrin is a pesticide; levonorgestrel and ethinylestradiol are synthetic hormones used in birth controls; and trenbolone is a synthetic steroid often given to cattle to bulk them up.</p><p>Such endocrine-disruptors have already been linked to a variety of health problems in directly exposed fish including altered growth, reduced survival, lowered egg production, skewed sex ratios, and negative impacts to immune systems. But what remains less clear is how the exposure may impact future generations.</p><p>For their study, DeCourten and colleagues started the exposure when the fish were embryos and continued it for 21 days.</p><p>They then tracked effects on the exposed fish, and the next two generations.</p>
Inherited Problems<p>DeCourten said the altered DNA methylation is one of the plausible ways that future generations would experience health impacts from previous generations' exposure. Hormone-disrupting compounds have been shown to impact DNA methylation, which is an important marker of how an organism will develop.</p><p>"Methyl groups are added to specific sites on the genome, [the exposure] is not changing the genome itself, but rather how the genome is expressed," she said. "And that can be inherited throughout generations."</p><p>In addition, Brander said there are essentially different "tags" that exist on DNA molecules, which tell genes how to turn on and off. She said the exposure to different compounds may be "influencing which methyl tags get taken on or off as you proceed through generations."</p><p>The researchers said the study should prompt future toxics testing to consider impacts on future generations.</p><p>"The results … throw a wrench in the current approach to regulating chemicals, where it's often short-term testing looking at simple things like growth, survival, and maybe gene expression," Brander said.</p><p>"These findings are telling us we really at least need to consider" the next two generations, she added.</p>
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Consumers have long turned to vitamins and herbs to try to protect themselves from disease. This pandemic is no different — especially with headlines that scream "This supplement could save you from coronavirus."
Vitamin D<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Called "the sunshine vitamin" because the body makes it naturally in the presence of ultraviolet light, <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/vitamin-d-supplements-lose-luster" target="_blank">Vitamin D is one of the most heavily studied</a> supplements (<em>SN: 1/27/19</em>). <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/appendix-12/" target="_blank">Certain foods</a>, including fish and fortified milk products, are also high in the vitamin.</p><p><strong>Why it might help: </strong>Vitamin D is a hormone building block that helps strengthen the immune system.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections:</strong> In 2017, the <em>British Medical Journal</em> published a meta-analysis that suggested a daily vitamin D supplement <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/356/bmj.i6583" target="_blank">might help prevent respiratory infections</a>, particularly in people who are deficient in the vitamin.</p><p>But one key word here is <em>deficient. </em>That risk is highest during dark winters at high latitudes and among people with more color in their skin (melanin, a pigment that's higher in darker skin, inhibits the production of vitamin D).</p><p>"If you have enough vitamin D in your body, the evidence doesn't stack up to say that giving you more will make a real difference," says Susan Lanham-New, head of the Nutritional Sciences Department at the University of Surrey in England.</p><p>And taking too much can create new health problems, stressing certain internal organs and leading to a dangerously high calcium buildup in the blood. The recommended daily allowance for adults is 600 to 800 International Units per day, and the upper limit is considered to be 4,000 IUs per day.</p><p><strong>What we know about Vitamin D and COVID-19:</strong> Few studies have looked directly at whether vitamin D makes a difference in COVID.</p>
Zinc<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Zinc, a mineral found in cells all over the body, is found naturally in certain meats, beans and oysters.</p><p><strong>Why it might help: </strong>It plays several supportive roles in the immune system, which is why zinc lozenges are always hot sellers in cold and flu season. Zinc also helps with cell division and growth.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections: </strong><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6457799/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Studies of using zinc for colds</a> — which are frequently caused by coronaviruses — suggest that using a supplement right after symptoms start might make them go away quicker. That said, a clinical trial from researchers in Finland and the United Kingdom, published in January in <em>BMJ Open</em> <a href="https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/10/1/e031662" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">did not find any value for zinc lozenges</a> for the treatment of colds. Some researchers have theorized that inconsistencies in data for colds may be explained by varying amounts of zinc released in different lozenges.</p><p><strong>What we know about zinc and COVID-19:</strong> The mineral is promising enough that it was added to some early studies of hydroxychloroquine, a drug tested early in the pandemic. (Studies have since shown that <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/covid-19-coronavirus-hydroxychloroquine-no-evidence-treatment" target="_blank">hydroxychloroquine can't prevent or treat COVID-19</a> (<em>SN: 8/2/20</em>).)</p>
Vitamin C<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Also called L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C has a long list of roles in the body. It's found naturally in fruits and vegetables, especially citrus, peppers and tomatoes.</p><p><strong>Why it might help:</strong> It's a potent antioxidant that's important for a healthy immune system and preventing inflammation.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections: </strong>Thomas cautions that the data on vitamin C are often contradictory. One review from Chinese researchers, published in February in the <em>Journal of Medical Virolog</em>y, looked at <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jmv.25707" target="_blank">what is already known about vitamin C</a> and other supplements that might have a role in COVID-19 treatment. Among other encouraging signs, human studies find a lower incidence of pneumonia among people taking vitamin C, "suggesting that vitamin C might prevent the susceptibility to lower respiratory tract infections under certain conditions."</p><p>But for preventing colds, a 2013 Cochrane review of 29 studies <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">didn't support the idea</a> that vitamin C supplements could help in the general population. However, the authors wrote, given that vitamin C is cheap and safe, "it may be worthwhile for common cold patients to test on an individual basis whether therapeutic vitamin C is beneficial."</p><p><strong>What we know about Vitamin C and COVID-19: </strong>About a dozen studies are under way or planned to examine whether vitamin C added to coronavirus treatment helps with symptoms or survival, including Thomas' study at the Cleveland Clinic.</p><p>In a review published online in July in <em>Nutrition</em>, researchers from KU Leuven in Belgium concluded that the <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vitamin may help prevent infection</a> and tamp down the dangerous inflammatory reaction that can cause severe symptoms, based on what is known about how the nutrient works in the body.</p><p>Melissa Badowski, a pharmacist who specializes in viral infections at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy and colleague Sarah Michienzi published an extensive look at all supplements that might be useful in the coronavirus epidemic. There's <a href="https://www.drugsincontext.com/can-vitamins-and-or-supplements-provide-hope-against-coronavirus/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">still not enough evidence to know whether they are helpful</a>, the pair concluded in July in <em>Drugs in Context</em>. "It's not really clear if it's going to benefit patients," Badowski says.</p><p>And while supplements are generally safe, she adds that nothing is risk free. The best way to avoid infection, she says, is still to follow the advice of epidemiologists and public health experts: "Wash your hands, wear a mask, stay six feet apart."</p>
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