The Senate considered three non-binding resolutions on Wednesday about whether they accept that climate change is real. One amendment from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat, said climate change is not a hoax. A second amendment from Senator Brian Schatz, also a Democrat, added that it is real and is caused by human activity. A third amendment, from Republican John Hoeven, said human-caused climate change is real, and asserted that building the pipeline is better for greenhouse gas emissions than the alternative (rail tranportation).
In the end, the Senate could only agree on Whitehouse's amendment. They confirmed, finally, that climate change is real, 98-1. Before anyone cheers this triumph of bipartisanship, it's important to note that Whitehouse's non-binding resolution did not say that the changing climate is due to human activity. Senator James Inhofe—a loudspoken denier who wrote a book calling global warming a hoax—took an opportunity just before the vote to add himself as a surprise cosponsor. He said he agreed that the climate is always changing, but the "hoax is that there are some people that are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful that they can change climate. Man can't change climate."
The rest of Republicans followed his lead, voting in favor, with Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi as the lone Republican maintaining the climate is a hoax.
Schatz's amendment, however, explicitly says climate change is "significantly caused by human activity." Requiring 60 votes to pass, it failed 50-49. It did pick up five Republican votes—Susan Collins, Mark Kirk, Lamar Alexander, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte.
Hoeven's resolution was meant to give Republicans, especially those up for reelection in 2016, cover for voting against Schatz's. It stated that Congress should reject policies that hurt jobs and should promote clean energy innovation. It also claimed that Keystone XL would lead to less greenhouse gas emissions than an alternative route for transporting tar sands oil, such as rail, and cited a section of the State Department's Environmental Impact Statement that says the pipeline is “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sand.” Hoeven's amendment didn't cite the rest of the State Deparment findings, which found if oil prices are below $65 to $75 per barrel, the "higher transportation costs" of rail "could have a substantial impact on oil sands production levels."
Regardless, Hoeven's resolution failed 59-40. Even he voted against it.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrected stated Hoeven's amendment did not mention human-caused climate change. His amendment did include language that climate change is real and human activity is causing it.