WASHINGTON (PAI) - Building trades unions, which strongly pushed the Obama administration to approve construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline from the Canada-Montana border to the Texas Gulf Coast, hailed the State Department's report finding the pipe and its oil would have no significant environmental impact.
But other unions, led by National Nurses United, joined environmental groups in again opposing Keystone. For the green groups, who are usually union allies, Keystone is a litmus test of the administration's commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
The department released its final environmental impact statement on the project, which would transport 830,000 barrels of oil daily from Alberta's tar sands to the refineries of the U.S. Gulf Coast. There are 30 days for public comments, but other agencies have up to three months to support or oppose Keystone. And there's no set time for the Obama administration's final decision, the State Department says.
Years ago, TransCanada, the pipeline's sponsor, signed a project labor agreement with at least four construction unions to have union workers build the pipe.
Construction unions calculate the project would create at least 10,000 jobs yearly, but the department's final report, which goes to Secretary of State John Kerry and Democratic President Barack Obama for a decision, says it's far fewer.
That didn't faze construction union leaders, who still strongly support Keystone.
"Any discussion of Keystone should center on the fact that it will be constructed by the safest, most highly skilled workforce in the world, in accordance with the strictest environmental and safety standards and subject to a project labor agreement that will ensure family-sustaining wage and benefit standards," said AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades President Sean McGarvey.
"For the 12% of the American building and construction workforce that continues to be unemployed, the last five years have not been a recession, they have constituted a depression. That is why our unions have pursued the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, and the thousands of jobs it will create, with such vigor.
"We have been patient while this project underwent the most exhaustive review and analysis of any infrastructure project in the history of the United States...Keystone has now been awaiting regulatory approval for more than five years. There are no more excuses for delaying this project. The time to construct this pipeline is now."
"The final environmental analysis of the impact of the Keystone XL pipeline underscores what experts have said for five years: There is no environmental justification to block the construction or operation of the pipeline," added Laborers President Terry O'Sullivan, whose union is one of the signers of the PLA.
"Following the upcoming public comment period, there are no reasons for further delay. It is time to unlock the good jobs the pipeline will create, a lifeline to thousands of working men and women. It is time to harness the energy that a trusted neighbor can provide and lessen our dependence on oil from unfriendly and often tyrannical regimes.
"There will continue to be extremists in the environmental movement who will try to block safe, job-creating projects to boost their fund-raising efforts, but they do nothing to address the real issue of climate change. They must not deny science. Rather than continuing to wage war on safe projects, we urge them to return to the fight for comprehensive climate change legislation, which is the only way our country and our world will make inroads in the battle against global warming," he stated.
The National Nurses Union, by contrast, is now the leading union voice against Keystone, on environmental and health grounds.
"There is broad concern about the harmful health effects linked to both the extraction and transport of tar sands, as well as how the pipeline will accelerate the steadily worsening erosion of health we see every day as a result of climate change," said Jean Ross, RN, NNU's co-president.
"Nurses will continue to oppose construction of this project, and call on President Obama to stand with our patients and our communities, not the big oil interests, to reject Keystone XL," Ross said.
The union objects to Keystone on several grounds: The massive amount of water needed to extract tar sands oil in Alberta and the resultant contamination that infects drinking water, leaks of the heavy oil from current pipelines, which NNU says "pose a major danger" and increased sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide, compared to extraction of ordinary oil, thus increasing greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.
Assistant Secretary of State for the Environment Kerri-Ann Jones, releasing the environmental impact statement on Keystone on Jan. 31, addressed the objections.
"Pipeline safety has always been a priority, and it was a subject of many of the comments. The final supplemental document includes additional analysis and conditions to address pipeline safety concerns" based on risk analysis and federal pipeline safety agency comments, she said. "One of the things we've done differently is we have taken all of the suggested potential mitigation actions related to pipeline safety and other issues, and put them all together" in the environmental statement.