Union labor can enable hydrogen's carbon-cutting potential

While the results of the discussions at the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, are still being analyzed, there is no doubt that an all-of-the-above energy approach built by skilled union labor is required to meet our ambitious shared climate goals.

There is broad consensus that a greener future must address high emissions sectors like energy transport, steel and manufacturing, long haul trucking, maritime cargo, and transportation. Hydrogen is well poised to meet this challenge, as are the thousands of men and women of organized labor — especially the more than 359,000 men and women of the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters (UA) — who are America’s best asset for building the 21st-century energy economy.

For decades, union labor has built and maintained much of the critical infrastructure at the heart of our economy. As we look towards a new energy future, organized labor is poised to lead the way forward. United Association members are the best-trained and most highly skilled craftspeople in the industry, positioning us to build and maintain the infrastructure necessary to power this energy transition.

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The current energy crisis is a reminder that sustained investment in current energy sources is necessary for a stable energy transition, and the time for accelerated investment in low-carbon energy options like hydrogen is now. We cannot afford anything other than an all-of-the-above approach.

Hydrogen produced from renewable energy can be blended with natural gas for use in our nation’s existing pipeline network. This already-existing infrastructure means hydrogen can travel from production centers to end users, reducing carbon intensity and emissions along the way. Even better, existing technologies allow hydrogen to be sourced, produced, and used domestically in all 50 states. That means red states and blue states both stand to benefit from jobs tied to increased hydrogen production, infrastructure, and value chain growth.

As Congress passed the historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, hydrogen is poised to play a critical role in the future of energy infrastructure in the United States. With $8 billion in funding over five years to support hydrogen fuel production and the construction of four new regional hubs, and an additional $1 billion for demonstration and commercialization aimed at cost reduction, the Act shows Congress is delivering on this bold promise to pursue an all-of-the-above energy approach. More importantly, this legislation will create good-paying union jobs on the path towards achieving our ambitious shared climate goals.

Additionally, bipartisan legislation introduced recently could see as much as $2.2 billion in loans and grants being made available, with some $100 million every year set aside for hydrogen infrastructure projects like pipeline construction, which is necessary to complement to 1,600 miles of dedicated hydrogen pipeline currently in operation.

With strong labor protections attached to this landmark bipartisan legislation, like prevailing wage provisions and the use of registered apprenticeships, these bills will create the kinds of family-sustaining jobs that power the middle class. Simply put, this legislation will put United Association members to work building our energy future with fair wages and benefits.

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We have the critical opportunity to also fund regional hydrogen hubs that will help unlock the diverse energy feedstock potential of natural gas, oil, and nuclear — effectively linking the most efficient energy sources of each region in the United States. An all-of-the-above energy approach put into practice harnesses the potential of existing fuel sources while allowing hydrogen and next generation energy sources to support the large-scale integration of renewables into our nation’s grid system, helping to decarbonize some of the toughest-to-eliminate emissions in various sectors and industries.

Union labor is the backbone of our nation. United Association members are already building the projects that will propel our country into the low-carbon energy transition, meaning Americans do not have to choose between addressing our climate goals or securing good-paying union jobs. Hydrogen provides a meaningful solution that addresses the need to lower our carbon footprint while preserving the most innovative workforce in the world. A cleaner, more resilient energy future is within reach, and union labor will build it.

Mark McManus is the General President of the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters.