Unions: Keystone review 'reeks of politics'

Union leaders joined with the nation’s largest oil and gas lobby on Tuesday to demand that President Obama approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

ADVERTISEMENT
Building trades union leaders have long backed the pipeline, arguing it would create thousands of construction jobs and boost the economy. But many of them have been muted in their criticism of President Obama, for fear of opening a rift with the White House over the controversial project.

That seemed to change on Tuesday, as the presidents of building trade unions linked the delay of Keystone to broader anger at the administration within the labor movement.

"Our anger doesn't just stop with Keystone XL," Terry O'Sullivan, president of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) told The Hill. "We are extremely angry about the Affordable Care Act and the fact that there is 12.8 percent unemployment in construction."

"Are [lawmakers] really for jobs and the middle class?" O'Sullivan said. "This whole thing reeks of politics."

O'Sullivan joined three other union presidents and Jack Gerard, the chief of the American Petroleum Institute, at a press conference urging the administration to approve Keystone XL, which would carry oil sands from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

"It's time to approve the pipeline. We've had five comprehensive reviews; that's longer than it took us to win World War II," Gerard said. "No more excuses; let's put our people to work."

Gerard added that the U.S. is faced with the largest infrastructure opportunity ever in its history, with the oil and gas sector willing to invest close to $1 trillion in private investments to move energy sources across the country.

Gen. James L. Jones, former national security adviser to Obama, is expected to testify before Congress in support of the pipeline on Thursday. Jones, a retired Marine Corps commandant who is now president of Jones Group International, has worked for the Chamber of Commerce, a vocal advocate for Keystone XL.

Sean McGarvey, president of the North America's Building Trades Union, tied Keystone to the larger debate in Washington over the energy dependence of Central and Eastern European countries.

"I expect Gen. Jones will talk about national security implications" if Keystone is not approved, McGarvey said. "If we were in a better position right now to supply Europe with liquified natural gas, our leverage with the Russians would be in much better shape."

Tempers are running high as both those in favor of and opposed to the $5.4 billion oil-sands pipeline increase the lobbying pressure ahead of what could be a final decision in June.

Members of the building trade unions said they planned to flood Capitol Hill on Tuesday and Wednesday to press lawmakers on Keystone XL.

The administration is conducting a 90-day review to determine whether the project would be in the national interest. Once that review is completed, the final call on the project will fall to Obama.

The decision, which could come just ahead of the midterm elections, pins the president between two competing elements of his base.

While a portion of Obama's union allies are mostly supportive of the project, environmental groups are on the warpath against it, arguing approval of the project would be a stain on his climate change legacy. And other labor unions like the nurses union and transit union oppose building the pipeline.

— This story was updated at 4:13 p.m.