Members of LIUNA and other building trades unions rally on behalf of the Keystone XL Pipeline Project in front of the AFL-CIO.  Photo: Bill Burke/Page One

May 22, 2013: Reuters recently reported that, based on conversations with an anonymous source inside the Obama Administration, a final decision on the Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline may not come until late this year, or early next year.  According to the wire service:

“The decision may not be made until November, December or even early 2014, said a U.S. official, as President Barack Obama will not rush the process, which still has a number of stages to work through. . . .  ‘The president has to be able to show that the administration looked under every stone to ensure it knew as much as it possibly could about the impact of Keystone,’ said the official. . . .”

After four-and-a-half years of review, more than a million public comments, dozens of public hearings, numerous safety enhancements, a significant re-routing, and the latest review currently underway, it is hard to imagine just what stone remains unturned.

At this rally last month, LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan, AFL-CIO BCTD President Sean McGarvey, and others called for swift approval of the KXL.

Meanwhile, as the Obama Administration proceeds at glacial speed to avoid even the slightest hint of being impulsive, highly skilled, safe, productive members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) and their brothers and sisters in other building trades unions wonder when they finally will be able to go to work.  For these hard working men and women, the KXL is more than a pipeline; it is a family-supporting, dignity-building lifeline that helps them enter, and stay in, the middle class.  Its wages help them to put food on their tables, roofs over their heads, and clothes on their backs.  Its benefits enable them to build a secure retirement, raise healthy families, and get the health care they need when they need it.  And, like every other “temporary” construction job, while construction of the KXL eventually will come to an end, the skills, experience, and connections workers gain on this job will help them secure the next one, the one after that, and the one after that.  Thus do “temporary” union construction jobs build lasting construction careers.

The economic benefits of building this pipeline are clear, as is the ongoing damage of these endless delays.  But that’s not the only damage caused by these delays; ironically, every additional delay in the building of the KXL hurts the climate as well.


This United States Marine and graduate of the Building and Construction Trades Department’s Helmets to Hardhats program spoke about what the KXL would mean to him and his building trades brothers and sisters.  Standing behind him were (l to r): LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and New England Regional Manager Armand E. Sabitoni, LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan, and LIUNA Vice President and Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager Dennis Martire.  Photo: Ed Rehfeld/LECET

TransCanada and others involved in the development of the Alberta oil sands repeatedly have indicated their intention to continue that development, with or without the Keystone XL Pipeline.  The State Department’s own draft environmental impact study conceded as much, and recognized that alternative modes of transport and storage would emit significantly more green house gases (GHGs) downstream than the low-emissions, LEED-certified Keystone XL Pipeline.  According to North Dakota Industrial Commission Director of Mineral Resources Lynn Helms, in his state alone, the pipeline “would mean 300 to 500 [fewer] long-haul truck trips from oil and gas wells to rail stations in western North Dakota.”  During his Congressional testimony, the Washington Times reports, Helms estimated that shipping that oil via truck rather than pipeline adds one million kilograms of GHGs to the earth’s atmosphere every day.  At 365 million kgs of GHGs per year, that’s a pretty large carbon footprint, and it belongs to the very people who continue to fight this project in the name of the environment.

Helms’ comments illustrate another point about the KXL that often is missed amidst the clamor about Alberta’s oil sands: diluted bitumen (dilbit) from Alberta isn’t the only product that the Keystone XL will carry.  It will carry unrefined oil products from parts of the United States where oil and gas development are expanding with unprecedented speed, largely unaffected by broader debates about the wisdom of such development.  Those who would prefer to see these resources remain in the ground have lost that debate not only in Alberta, but in Montana, North Dakota, and Nebraska.  Meanwhile, demand for oil, gas, and other fossil fuels continues to grow worldwide, as China, India, and other parts of the developing world seek these resources to fuel their expanding economies.  The more successful pipeline opponents are in delaying the KXL, the more dilbit and other oil products they will divert to modes of transportation that are riskier, and far more carbon-intensive, than the KXL.  If opponents succeed in killing the pipeline, they will merely make that diversion permanent, compounding, rather than reducing, North American oil-and-gas-related GHG emissions.

Perhaps to obscure this particular inconvenient truth, some opponents of the KXL recently compared denial of its permit to the passage of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which outlawed slavery.  In a letter to the President, they wrote:

“We have read of your admiration for President Lincoln. . . .  He made one of the most important decisions of his presidency and for our nation when he decided that he would fight for the 13th Amendment to end slavery even if it took every ounce of his political capital. Your decision on Keystone may not be so weighty, but we believe it holds a comparable urgency and importance.”

Comparing, even somewhat conditionally, the construction of a single oil pipeline to the centuries-long enslavement of an entire race of people is simultaneously offensive, inappropriate, facile, silly, and laughable.  Such tortured analogies are the clearest signal yet that this debate has gone on long enough, and that it is time to move forward with this critical infrastructure project that should have broken ground years ago.

Ed Rehfeld, Manager of Communications