Construction unions join coalition to push Obama to OK Keystone

SUPPORTING KEYSTONE: Sean McGarvey, President of the AFL-CIO Building Trades department (shown here addressing participants at a Keystone XL Rally in Des Moines, Iowa last year) says thousands of workers would be helped by President Obama approving the pipeline. –RadioIowa photo
SUPPORTING KEYSTONE: Sean McGarvey, President of the AFL-CIO Building Trades department (shown here addressing participants at a Keystone XL Rally in Des Moines, Iowa last year) says thousands of workers would be helped by President Obama approving the pipeline.
– RadioIowa photo

Washington (PAI)—The AFL-CIO Building Trades Department, the Operating Engineers, the Laborers and the Electrical Workers have joined a bipartisan coalition to push Democratic President Barack Obama to approve construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline as quickly as possible.

And if Obama doesn’t act just after the end of the formal 90-day period for reaction and federal agency comments, the coalition’s congressional leaders of both parties will draft legislation to force his hand, they told a Feb. 4 press conference.

“It’s been five long years” since construction unions first signed a project labor agreement to build Keystone, and since its Canadian sponsors sought U.S. OK to build it, said Building Trades Department President Sean McGarvey.

“One figure that isn’t mentioned in all the reports about Keystone is that as of December, 952,000 construction workers were still out of work,” he added.  Thousands of those workers’ “families would be helped by putting shovels in the ground.”


Laborers regional Vice President John Penn, whose territory includes the Keystone states – Montana, the Dakotas, Nebraska and Oklahoma – said building the pipeline would put returning veterans to work, just as his Laborers local found him pipeline work when he returned from Vietnam to Illinois in 1970.

And Operating Engineers Legislative Director Jeffrey Soth said changes in the pipeline route through Nebraska solved environmental concerns there.  Those concerns led Obama to bounce the initial pipeline proposal, in early 2012.


Keystone would carry 830,000 barrels of heavy oil daily from the Canada-Montana border to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.  The oil, from Albertan tar sands, is a sore point for environmental groups.

But the State Department, the lead agency on Keystone, issued a final environmental impact statement on Jan. 31 saying there would be little change.


Coalition speakers made that same point at the press conference, adding that construction of the northern segment of Keystone, from the Montana-Canada border through the Dakotas, Nebraska and Oklahoma, would create thousands of construction jobs.

That’s based on actual man-hours for construction of Keystone’s southern segment, Soth told Press Associates Union News Service after the press conference.

The southern segment runs from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf Coast and opened for business on Jan. 22.

“There were more than 2 million man-hours” for Operating Engineers alone building that segment, Soth explained, and 11 million among all building trades.

“And there’s a Houston lateral, of about 48 miles, which isn’t done yet, which has already taken over 200,000 man-hours” by IUOE members.  The southern segment alone employed more than 1,000 workers for two construction seasons.

Union workers built the southern Keystone segment and are building the lateral, under a project labor agreement that building trades unions signed with TransCanada, the pipeline’s owner and sponsor, almost six years ago. 

“The Canada-Nebraska segment is 1,200 miles and would take an estimated six million man-hours,” from the Operating Engineers alone, “so do the math,” Soth said.  If Obama acts quickly, workers could build Keystone in two construction seasons or slightly more, he estimated.

The pipeline is not the only construction project in Keystone, Soth noted.  Keystone would not only transport Albertan oil, but 100,000 barrels daily from the Bakken field in Montana and North Dakota.

Construction workers would build a $140 million oil storage facility for that oil, in Baker, Mont.


Senators from both parties convened the coalition, which also includes the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Obama lost all the states involved – Keystone and non-Keystone – in both 2008 and 2012.

Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer also joined the press conference.  Canada’s Tory government is a strong backer of Keystone.

If Obama doesn’t OK the pipeline on his own, the lawmakers have several options, said their leader, Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND).

• One is passing a law specifically approving Keystone.

• A second is a congressional joint resolution declaring Keystone is in the national interest, putting pressure on Obama to approve it.

• The third is to try to attach the Keystone OK to must-pass legislation, such as a law raising the U.S. federal debt ceiling, due by the end of this month.


Doer said Keystone is in the national security interest of North America.

“We should choose blue-collar workers” and “crude oil from Canada over crude from Venezuela and the Middle East,”  Doer said.

Keystone’s daily oil shipments from Alberta would equal U.S. imports from Venezuela.



“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,” Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan said.  His union is a Keystone PLA signer.

“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.”

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