Unions split on Keystone as Senate stops pro-pipeline bill

Unions split on building the controversial Keystone XL pipeline as the Senate narrowly voted to stop a pro-Keystone bill. Legislation to approve the pipeline is likely to come up again in 2015 when Republicans have control of both houses of Congress.

Supporters needed 60 votes to curb debate and bring the bill to a final decision, but got only 59 on Nov. 18: All 45 Republicans and 14 Democrats. Forty-one Democrats opposed Keystone. The measure, which the GOP-run House passed the week before, declared Keystone met environmental standards, based on a prior State Department evaluation, and ordered federal approval to construct it.

Building trades unions strongly lobbied for Keystone. The National Nurses United, Amalgamated Transit Union and other unions opposed it, as did environmental groups. Environmentalists said the pipeline would carry “dirty oil” from Albertan tar sands to a terminal in Guthrie, Okla., on the way to Gulf Coast refineries, increasing global warming gases.

Democratic President Barack Obama also opposed the measure. He said he wanted to let the Keystone evaluation and legal process run its course before making a decision. But he has also said Keystone would not cut U.S. dependence on imported oil.

Building trades unions, led by the Operating Engineers and the Teamsters, said that government studies over the last six years showed the pipeline would have little if any impact on global warming.

They also said it would be the most safely engineered pipeline ever, after all the studies and requirements. Building trades unions said Keystone would create 12,000 direct unionized construction jobs and 30,000 spinoff jobs. When TransCanada first proposed Keystone, it signed a Project Labor Agreement with the Operating Engineers, the Laborers, the Teamsters and other construction unions to have their members build it.

“These jobs would be created without a single dollar of government assistance and they equate to millions of construction and manufacturing work hours,” North America's Building Trades President Sean McGarvey told lawmakers in the final lobbying blitz. He calculated that constructing Keystone would pump $2.05 billion into the U.S. economy.

ATU, National Nurses United, 1199 SEIU Health Care Workers East, the New York State Nurses Association and the National Domestic Workers Alliance disputed those numbers –  and everything else about Keystone. They declared more construction jobs would be created by fixing the nation's current aging and leaking pipelines and other eroding infrastructure.

Keystone would “bring dirty tar sands oil through the United States and to global oil market at a time when we should be drawing the line against the most carbon-polluting fossil fuel to protect public health, defend the rights of farmers, ranchers and native communities and to avoid out-of -control levels of global warming and climate instability,” they said.

Article reprinted from WorkdayMinnesota.