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Enbridge tar sands pipeline break in Marshall, Mich.
Much like the rest of the nation, America's unions are fiercely debating how to approach questions of climate change and energy, a debate that lurks under the surface of a statement on energy and jobs produced by the AFL-CIO executive council this week.

Many unions are actively training their members for and seeking to expand job opportunities in green energy or building retrofitting. But there are still a lot more gray jobs than green ones, and the green ones are often not as good as they should be for the skill levels required. Construction unions, in particular, have desperately been wanting to see the Keystone XL pipeline approved, since it would mean a significant number of jobs at a time when construction unemployment remains high. Other unions are very much opposed to Keystone, which has led to some conflict within the labor movement.

The AFL-CIO executive council, which includes leaders from many of the federation's unions, has now released a statement reflective of this debate, beginning with a call for a "comprehensive energy policy focused on investing in our nation’s future, creating jobs and addressing the threat of climate change." Much of it, though, focuses on the importance of pipelines. Overwhelmingly that focus is on pipeline maintenance and repair, pointing out that:

In Massachusetts alone, pipeline leakage is estimated to cost natural gas ratepayers $40 million per year. As a result of allowing our pipeline infrastructure to decay, leaks from pipelines have become a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, and a totally preventable one.
That said, the statement is disappointing, because while it doesn't mention Keystone by name, when it calls for "the expansion of our pipeline infrastructure," it's not a stretch to think it's referring to Keystone—especially since the building trades department of the AFL-CIO quickly sent out a release applauding it as a "resolution in support of a comprehensive energy policy that includes the expansion of our nation's pipeline infrastructure, including the Keystone XL pipeline."

It's important to understand that this is a very real tension for a very real reason, and that building trades unions are struggling to get their members back to work after years of high unemployment. Unions do have a responsibility to their members, and in this economy it is really difficult to think in the long term. But while they will create jobs in a short term in which few other major job-creating projects are being launched, in the long term, projects like Keystone will hurt the economy and in particular poor people, working people, people struggling to keep working.

The thing is, unions are dealing with an economy created by corporations and a government that works for corporations. Unions and the environmental movement aren't big enough or powerful enough to reorient the economy toward green energy, and right now, for some unions, projects like Keystone represent the best chance for their members to pay the bills. Yes, it's short-sighted. But eviction notices and not being able to give your kids the things their friends have will make you short-sighted. We can wish—I do wish—for unions, all of them, to support better policies and push the government and the market, hard, in their direction. But on the list of forces responsible for America's lousy energy policy and lack of investment in clean energy? Unions are pretty low.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 07:42 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Man...Keystone is gonna be a tough (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    issue for Obama. There was a Pew poll the other day that had the national breakdown at 65/15 in favor of approving the pipeline. I will say this: if Obama rejects the pipeline, he can't ever be accused of lacking political courage.

    •  those poll numbers wouldn't be so bad (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      snoopydawg, Albanius

      if obama was off the fence, explaining why it's unacceptable. it's not a tough issue. it's a must.

      The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

      by Laurence Lewis on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 08:14:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I totally agree (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Laurence Lewis

        Silence on this issue from the administration has had a negative effect in terms of polling, sorta like how 60+% of the country now wants deficit reduction.

        Now with that being said, like with rejecting deficit reduction, Obama wouldn't be able to make rejecting the pipeline a political winner. He could probably make it 35-55 in favor of rejecting the pipeline, which is bad, but not fatal. The republicans have that breakdown on basically every plank of their platform, lol.

        Anyway, we elected him to lead, particularly when it requires doing unpopular things.

        •  i think he could move those numbers (0+ / 0-)

          much more than that. most people know almost nothing about keystone, as evidenced even by some of the comments in this thread. a little accurate information can go a long way. but we're in agreement, overall...

          The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

          by Laurence Lewis on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 08:23:15 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Like many issues, (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Sylv, Laurence Lewis

          people believe a lot of false thing s about the pipeline, like it's going to grow our gas supply and bring down prices.

          And unfortunately, the AFL-CIO is working in a climate of declining job opportunities and supports too many of these shortsighted measures that will be costly in the long run but create a handful of jobs right now. Same with their backing  of white elephant big-bang construction projects here in Cleveland like the new convention center/Medical Mart project which I guarantee will be sitting empty and draining local tax dollars forever.

          Jon Husted is a dick.

          by anastasia p on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 09:33:36 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  The AFL statement (0+ / 0-)

            said nothing about "growing our gas supply."  The AFL statement accepted the shift to control of greenhouse gasses and called for a national energy policy to insure the impacts on working people would be fair.

            Orly, it isn't evidence just because you downloaded it from the internet.

            by 6412093 on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 10:46:23 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  it talks about (0+ / 0-)

              coal, oil and natural gas, and specifically mentions pipelines. sorry. and the impacts on working people from climate change will be devastating on an unprecedented scale.

              The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

              by Laurence Lewis on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 04:11:29 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  We need to remember what Unions do. (6+ / 0-)

    Unions are not in the business of deciding what to produce or how to produce it. Unions are in the business of making sure workers get a fair share of what actually gets produced.

    We need to use the right tool for the job. When Progressives expect labor unions to help reform Environmental Policy it's like trying to pound in a nail with a screwdriver handle.

    •  wrong again (0+ / 0-)

      union workers and their family breathe the air and drink the water, and often live in communities that are targeted for dumping of toxic wastes, because such toxics never would be dumped in more affluent areas. environmental policy IS about creating jobs. good jobs. the jobs of the future. healthier jobs.

      The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

      by Laurence Lewis on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 08:17:17 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Unemployment is pretty toxic (0+ / 0-)

        Pretty much the only union jobs between here and the unionized casino workers in Vegas are:

         - Railroad workers who are moving Chinese-made goods to Walmart distribution centers.

         - UPS Teamster workers who are moving Chinese-made goods from Amazon distribution centers.

         - Copper mine workers that contribute to our Mexico City-esque air quality in the winter.

        •  and creating maybe 900 local jobs (0+ / 0-)

          throughout the entire pipeline region, at the cost of enormous environmental damage, helps how?

          The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

          by Laurence Lewis on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 09:07:42 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'm not saying they will, but they could (0+ / 0-)

            If you are working a union construction job, you will have a lot of money to give to the World Wildlife Fund or the Sierra Club.

            In reality, most of them will buy ATV's.

            But if you have a union paycheck, voting in favor of that ballot proposition to create more open space looks a little better.

          •  It helps the 900... (0+ / 0-)

            ...people who get jobs.

            It hurts the millions who have a slightly worse environment,

            All I'm saying is that if you expect the Union to favor the millions over the 900, you are gonna have a long wait.

            •  it's not a slightly worse environment (0+ / 0-)

              with that alone you lose credibility. jobs are a dishonest excuse. a lie. if we want to create jobs we can try some genuine, reponsible stimulus.

              The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

              by Laurence Lewis on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 12:17:03 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  I don't think you... (0+ / 0-)

                ...understand the facts.

                Canada is going to burn that oil no matter what we do. The carbon is going into the atmosphere no matter what.

                The only question we are dealing with is:

                1) Does the refining get done by American workers who pay American taxes?


                2) Does the refining get done in Canada or elsewhere?

                Take your choice.

  •  The Canadians... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    VClib, Utahrd

    ...have decided to burn that oil. We need to decide if our workers are going to get a share of the money, or if Canada will be forced to refine in Canada.

    If we want to actually reduce greenhouse emissions, we'll need to attack it with carbon taxes, fuel efficiency standards, and eventually, international treaties.

    How does it look when we put the squeeze on Canada, our neighbor and ally, while China and India continue to spew tons of carbon?

  •  if they looked at (0+ / 0-)

    the official environmental impact statement (pdf), they'd find this:

    Construction of the proposed Project, including the pipeline and pump stations, would result in hiring approximately 5,000 to 6,000 workers over the three year construction period. As indicated above, it is expected that roughly 10 to 15 percent of the construction work force would be hired from local labor markets, thus 500 to 900 local workers would be hired throughout the entire region of influence, or 50 to 90 local workers per construction spread.
    do they think keystone is the best way to create 500-900 local jobs, total? and an understatement that needs reiteration:
    Thus, this total of 132,544 unemployed people in 2008 would exceed the proposed Project’s local work force needs of up to 900 people as well as the total work force needs.
    there are, indeed, plenty of jobs to be created through green tech, which should be at the forefront of government stimulus, which should be our national economic focus, rather than different shades of austerity. i wish the unions would focus on what works at putting people to work rather than on catastrophic pipe dreams.

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 08:11:03 AM PST

    •  That portion of the EIS isn't accurate (0+ / 0-)

      While the pipeline won't create many local jobs for the handful of ranchers across the empty stretches of Montana, the Dakotas, western Nebraska and other rural areas, it will create thousands of jobs for workers in Denver, Omaha, Billings, Kansas City and the other nearby urban areas where construction workers live, who will travel to the pipeline site to work.

      Orly, it isn't evidence just because you downloaded it from the internet.

      by 6412093 on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 10:43:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  bunk (0+ / 0-)

        there's also the cornell study. the only ones claiming significant job creation are the companies themselves, and their b.s. has been thoroughly refuted.

        The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

        by Laurence Lewis on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 12:19:50 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'm not claiming 20,000 jobs like the company BS (0+ / 0-)

          But the pipeline work would create 3000 construction jobs lasting about 2 years.

          Its true most construction jobs won't go to local workers,  but that's because the pipeline runs thru unpopulated areas where there aren't a lot of construction workers living.

          The pipeline job would generate some other work, specifically steel mill jobs in Arkansas for some of the pipe, and manufacturing of valves, etc., in various other states.

          Orly, it isn't evidence just because you downloaded it from the internet.

          by 6412093 on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 12:47:15 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  there are construction workers everywhere (0+ / 0-)

            and there will be 900 local jobs, at most, throughout the entire region of the pipeline. jobs are a poor excuse. a distraction. a lie. we can create jobs with meaningful infrastructure- heavy keynesian stimulus. funny that some of the same people opposing real stimulus are using jobs as the rationale for keystone. it's unadulterated bunk.

            The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

            by Laurence Lewis on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 04:17:21 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Wow, have we ever become myopic (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the pipeline infrastructure IS an important issue well beyond Keystone.

    For example, where do you think that $40 million of NG leaked from pipelines in MA ends up?  I suspect that since the pipelines aren't buried that deeply, the answer is in the atmosphere, where it is a potent greenhouse gas.

    To me it makes really good sense to get this fixed!

    If you go state by state, there is going to be a lot of jobs involved - for example MD has similar problems - currently $78 million a year is being spent but that needs to be tripled (if a funding mechanism could be agreed upon).  Much of this is going to go into salaries.

    But yet we don't give a fuck, it appears when we can have some good fun with this site's favorite whipping boy.

    •  there have been (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Albanius, Roadbed Guy

      studies done that show that a fair amount of gas leaks from transmission pipelines, as well as from the equipment around wells. It really is a problem, and it really does need to be addressed.
      The gas industry has been using an estimate of 2 percent lost to leakage; the studies indicate it's actually closer to 6 to 8 percent.

      (Is it time for the pitchforks and torches yet?)

      by PJEvans on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 09:06:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  infrastructure repair and maintenance (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and replacement could create tens of thousands of pretty much permanent jobs. keystone not so much.

      The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

      by Laurence Lewis on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 09:10:32 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well yeah, the former is what the unions (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        were advocating, so why not do a positive diary about that (instead of pivoting towards the usual Keystone bashing? which is all good and fine, of course, but I really don't think it needs to be so all consuming as to drown out other endeavors that are completely 100% cromulent).

        •  because some unions (0+ / 0-)

          are now playing along with keystone. laura is a champion of labor and labor issues. she included keystone for very good reasons.

          The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

          by Laurence Lewis on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 12:25:52 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  The AFL (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Roadbed Guy

            never "played along" with Keystone, despite intense pressure from some of its member unions.  The AFL leader is a coal miner, yet he himself has never praised use of coal.  The AFL never endorsed Keystone.

            I apologize if that isn't enough to earn an objective review of the AFL's call for a comprehensive energy policy, infrastructure spending, green energy, greenhouse gas reductions, and insuring that workers aren't harmed by the massive shifts in our energy focus.

            Orly, it isn't evidence just because you downloaded it from the internet.

            by 6412093 on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 12:55:39 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Drown out indeed (0+ / 0-)

          The reason James Hansen  said that the KXL pipeline would mean "game over"  for the holocene climate is that the Canadian tar sands contain enough carbon to trigger a runaway greenhouse effect, leading to more Katrinas and Sandys in the near term and permanent inundation of coastal regions starting later this century.

          This planet is close to the point of no return, beyond which positive feedbacks could accelerate global overheating beyond human capacity to reverse.  

          Major positive feedbacks include:
          thawing of permafrost in Siberia and Canada, releasing vast amounts of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 (see Fishoutofwater's scary recent diary)
          Increased evaporation of H20, another potent greenhouse gas, which is globally in equilibrium with the oceans but already up 5% over pre-industrial levels due to the greenhouse impact of fossil fuel burning;

          Melting of arctic glaciers and sea ice, which reflect most of the suns energy, to uncover land and sea which absorb much more soalr energy and emit it as heat.

          There's no such thing as a free market!

          by Albanius on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 01:04:14 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  He may have said that, but if you do the (0+ / 0-)

            math it is a ridiculous statement.

            I'm not sure how some people get god-like status here at DailyKos and can say really silly things with very little push

            The reality is that the Tarsands could be 100% stopped (which be freakin' great!) and that would have virtually no impact on atmospheric carbon levels and global climate change.  The problem IS MUCH greater than that simplification.

  •  This diary did not treat (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the AFL-CIO's statement fairly.  Their statement did not even mention Keystone XL, although there were probably unions with millions of members agitating for a specific endorsement naming the pipeline.

    Instead the AFL's position paper  called for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), lauded green investment and even mentioned several projects that would vastly benefit the environment, including increased piping of natural gas that is currently flared, and rigorous pipeline repairs, both of which would vastly reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and protect the public.

    The AFL asked for a national energy policy that included consideration of the impact on workers from the massive changes in our economy's structure to accommodate green energy.

    Instead the diary pounced on a single sentence that possibly inferred indirect support for Keystone XL and then damned the unions. Most commentors on this diary are following that line.

    If folks are going to attack the unions for a forward-looking statement on energy that includes compromise language to incorporate the views of 50 unions, where's the reward for the construction unions who accepted this statement that watered down their own position to the thin edge of nothing?  

    This statement was an olive branch to the environmentalists, seeking common ground on infrastructure improvements and a national energy policy.  Yet most folks reject this offering the minute they sense "Keystone XL" somewhere between the lines.

    Orly, it isn't evidence just because you downloaded it from the internet.

    by 6412093 on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 10:29:01 AM PST

    •  Diarist Laura is a union booster, not a basher (0+ / 0-)

      ...with a long record of strong pro union advocacy.  She has earned the right to express concern about a compromise position that could alienate allies, who see stopping the Tar Sands developent as a survival issue.  

      A rough equivalent to the sensitivity of KXL mighty be if the Sierra Club failed to side with labor on RTW.

      Labor and environmentalists have worked for years to bridge wedge issues which corporate enemies use to divide them.

      6412093 is however right to note that the AFL's silence on the KXL pipeline should not be taken as consent.  

      The massive investments needed in clean energy retrofits and development can provide millions of unionizable jobs.  We can all agree on that, and environmentalists who know about methane leaks should be happy to work with labor to demand pipeline maintenance and repair.

      There's no such thing as a free market!

      by Albanius on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 01:24:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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