Blue-Collar Democrats Celebrate Trump Pipeline Orders: ‘A New Day For America’s Working Class’
Blue-collar Democrats are cheering President Donald Trump for reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects after years of opposition from “keep it in the ground” groups and the Obama administration.
Two construction unions that endorsed his opponent, Hillary Clinton, during the presidential election are now rallying around the new Republican president for signing executive orders that will put the projects back on track.
A statement yesterday from the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) carried the headline: “It is Finally Beginning to Feel Like a New Day for America’s Working Class.”
“The Keystone Pipeline was stalled, delayed and ultimately blocked by the previous Administration to appease extremist environmentalists, reducing working class men and women to pawns in an elitist game,” LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan said. “Likewise, the Dakota Access Pipeline has been delayed by a distortion of the regulatory process by the previous Administration, putting at risk the livelihoods of more than 4,500 construction workers, including 1,100 LIUNA members,” O’Sullivan said. “While the project had been approved by local, state and federal agencies, the new last-minute hurdle blocking it put politics above people.”
The Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines are two major multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects in the West. Together they would connect major oil fields in Canada, Montana and North Dakota with refineries in the Midwest and Gulf Coast.
The North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU) also issued a statement yesterday praising the Trump administration for giving “hope to thousands of skilled craft construction professionals in America’s heartland.”
“We are grateful that President Trump understands that 32% of today’s construction industry workforce is employed on energy projects, amounting to over 2 million workers, and that projects such as the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines are significant job creators that generate above-average wages and benefits for hard-working Americans,” the NABTU statement read.
Environmental activist opposition to energy projects, including Keystone XL and Dakota Access, has created a major rift in the Democratic Party, which has traditionally counted on strong support from organized labor. But during the Obama administration, unions saw the influence of green groups rise significantly.
In November 2015, for example, former President Barack Obama announced he would block the Keystone XL pipeline. In his speech, three weeks before a major round of United Nations climate talks in Paris, Obama said the project had become a “symbol” and he was worried how approving the pipeline might look to other countries.
“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership,” Obama said at the time. “Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground.”
The decision infuriated construction unions, who accused the president of giving into the “keep it in the ground” campaign, led by 350.org, the Sierra Club and other environmental activist groups. These groups organized an all-out campaign against Keystone XL, claiming the project would be “a climate disaster.”
But such claims were contradicted by Obama’s own State Department, which had jurisdiction over the permitting process because the proposed pipeline crossed the U.S.-Canadian border.
The State Department’s environmental impact studies repeatedly found no significant increase in greenhouse gases from the project. In 2014, the New York Times reported that emissions from the oil transported via the Keystone XL pipeline “would amount to less than 1 percent of United States greenhouse gas emissions, and an infinitesimal slice of the global total.”
Despite Trump’s executive action, “keep it in the ground” groups have vowed to keep their anti-pipeline campaign going. “[W]e will continue the fight,” 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben said. “This is not a done deal.” California billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, a 350.org donor, also issued a statement criticizing Trump’s action.
If environmental groups keep trying to sink Keystone XL, Dakota Access and other pipeline projects, it could deepen the rift between the blue-collar and environmental wings of the Democratic coalition.
“Despite multiple State Department reviews that found the [Keystone XL] pipeline would be safe, in the national interest, and unlikely to contribute to climate change, thousands of workers, desperate for means to care for the families, were ignored,” O’Sullivan, the LIUNA president, said.
“The abuse and politicization of the permitting process that we have seen during the last few years has become an impediment to rebuilding our crumbling transportation and energy infrastructure.”