No, Biden didn’t kill 11,000 union jobs by canceling the Keystone XL permit

The number was far lower, but impacted unions are still upset

Managing Editor

CONSTRUCTION ON THE Keystone XL pipeline near Glasgow, Mont., last year. – TC Energy via AP

On his first day in office, Democratic President Joe Biden signed 17 executive orders undoing various policies of the Trump administration. One that drew immediate attention from union members, online trolls and Republicans feigning a newfound interest in union workers was his decision to revoke the permit for the long awaited and debated Keystone XL oil pipeline.

On Jan. 20, Biden signed an order that revoked the presidential permit for construction of the pipeline at the international border of the United States and Canada.

The decision drew an immediate response. In a Facebook post published the same day, one user said the move would cost thousands of jobs.

“By revoking the Keystone pipeline permit, Biden is destroying 11,000 jobs and roughly $2 billion in wages,” the post says. “Democrats couldn’t even get through Day 1 without killing jobs for middle class Americans.”

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed.

Another post, shared more than 6,000 times, said the pipeline shutdown cost 28,000 jobs. Yet another said the total was 83,000 jobs.

Daniel Funk, a reporter for PolitiFact, a nonprofit project operated by the Poynter Institute that fact checks the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others, identified several similar posts offering other figures ranging from 12,000 to 83,000. 

Texas Senator Ted Cruz waded into the fray during a Senate hearing on the nomination of Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary on Jan. 26, claiming canceling the permit would cost 11,000 jobs, including 8,000 union jobs, for contracts worth $1.6 billion, but later posted a video clip to Facebook saying “hundreds” were laid-off because of Biden’s decision to cancel the permit.

TC Energy Corp., the Canadian company that owns the Keystone XL pipeline with the Alberta government, told AFP Fact Check the number jobs lost are below any of the cited figures.

“This is to confirm that 1,000 unionized jobs will be lost with the presidential permit being revoked for Keystone XL,” TC Energy spokesman Terry Cunha, told AFP in an email.

The 11,000 figure cited in the Facebook post, and repeated by Cruz and others, appears to stem from an Oct. 28 press release in which TC Energy announced the awarding of contracts to six American union contractors to build the Keystone XL pipeline in three states in 2021. Those contractors were “responsible for hiring 7,000 union workers,” according to the release.

In other words, the vast majority of the jobs cited in the press release and being repeated by various pundits were projected jobs, not actual hires.

Trump approved the project in 2017, but the company only confirmed that it would build Keystone XL, with $1.1 billion in Alberta government funding, on March 31, 2020 – right as the COVID-19 pandemic was shutting everything down. Only a 1.2-mile section of the pipeline had been completed in Montana near the U.S.-Canada border at the time of Biden’s executive order.

According to State Department projections, no more than 50 permanent jobs – some of which would be located in Canada – would have be required to maintain the pipeline. Thirty-five of those jobs would be permanent, and 15 would be temporary.

The Keystone XL project has always been divisive, and Biden’s decision to withdraw the project permit comes as no surprise. President Barrack Obama’s State Department denied a permit for the project in 2015 when Biden was vice president, and Biden had promised to revoke the permit as part of his commitment to combating climate change and his #BuildBackBetter initiative, which includes growing green jobs.

But his decision drew a sharp rebuke from some Labor unions.

“In revoking this permit, the Biden Administration has chosen to listen to the voices of fringe activists instead of union members and the American consumer,” said Mark McManus, general president of the United Association of Plumbers & Pipefitters.

“For eight years the Obama Administration delayed and blocked a decision on Keystone XL,” McManus said. “Then the flawed process and mismanagement of the Trump Administration led to further delays and inaction over the last four years. Now, this planned decision by the Biden Administration makes it the third White House to fail the working families of the United Association and all Americans who rely on affordable and reliable energy to power their daily lives.”

Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said the Biden Administration’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline permit on day one of his presidency was “both insulting and disappointing.”

“We support the President’s campaign to ‘build back better,’” O’Sullivan said. “But for union members affected by this decision, there are no renewable energy jobs that come even close to replacing the wages and benefits the Keystone XL project would have provided. Killing good union jobs on day one with nothing to replace them, is not building back better. Hopefully, the Biden Administration will not continue to allow environmental extremists to control our country’s energy agenda at the expense of union construction workers being forced to the unemployment lines.”


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