Union Hammers Obama for ‘Gutless’ Keystone XL Delay

‘The administration is making a political calculation instead of doing what is right for the country’

Large sections of Keystone Pipeline in Texas
Large sections of Keystone Pipeline in Texas / AP
April 21, 2014

A top labor union blasted the Obama administration on Friday over what it described as a nakedly political decision to once again delay a decision on the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers International Union of America (LIUNA), called the move "gutless" and a "low blow to the working men and women of our country."

The State Department announced on Friday that it would push back its decision on the pipeline until after the midterm elections in November.

The delay was widely seen as an effort to appease high-dollar environmentalist donors, who have made Keystone their cause célèbre and threatened to battle even Democrats who support the project.

The administration denies that the decision was political, insisting that uncertainty created by litigation over the pipeline route in Nebraska required further study by regulators overseeing the project.

O’Sullivan rejected the explanation.

"The administration is delaying a finding on whether the pipeline is in the national interest based on months-old litigation in Nebraska regarding a state level challenge to a state process—and which has nothing to with the national interest," he said in a Friday statement.

O’Sullivan’s union represents many workers who would be employed in the construction phases of the project.

"It’s not the oil that’s dirty, it’s the politics," he wrote.

"Once again, the administration is making a political calculation instead of doing what is right for the country. This certainly is no example of profiles in courage. It’s clear the administration needs to grow a set of antlers, or perhaps take a lesson from Popeye and eat some spinach."

O’Sullivan’s statement indicates a growing divide between labor unions and the Democratic Party’s environmentalist supporters (and donors) that could spell trouble for the party in the midterms, even with a steady flow of Tom Steyer cash.

Republicans have seized on the most recent Keystone delay to claim that Senate Democrats who support the project—who number at least 11—are ineffective legislators, even when it comes to very important issues in their states.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.) has been one of her party’s most outspoken proponents of the pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Canada to refineries in her home state. She called Obama’s delay last week "irresponsible, unnecessary, and unacceptable."

Speaking out against the decision could play well in Louisiana, but Republicans say the decision speaks to her effectiveness in Washington, which she has touted as an asset for the state and its oil-intensive economy.

"Landrieu has been telling anyone who will listen how influential she is after being named Chairman of the Energy Committee, but it turns out that Landrieu isn't influential at all," said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring in a Monday statement.

LIUNA’s fury at the administration could also spell trouble for Democrats. The union has already threatened to direct its political "fury" toward any Democrat who actively opposes the pipeline.

The nascent alliance between unions and Republican lawmakers makes for some rare political common ground.

"These are the same people who oppose health care reform; oppose raising the minimum wage; and oppose protecting the rights of working people to organize," Steyer said of Keystone supporters.

The Keystone pipeline is one of several energy policy issues that does not fit neatly into traditional partisan divides.

Unions are joining with Republicans, business groups, and free market organizations to back policies that would stimulate U.S. energy production in the face of staunch environmentalist opposition.

LIUNA is also a strong supporter of innovative oil and gas extraction techniques such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling that are helping to produce record amounts of oil in blue collar areas of the country that have struggled economically in recent decades.

"The shale became a lifesaver and a lifeline for a lot of working families," Dennis Martire, LIUNA’s mid-Atlantic regional manager, told the Associated Press.

Pipeline projects in Pennsylvania and West Virginia that carry oil from the Marcellus shale formation are large sources of work for LIUNA members in the area, Martire said. Members of the union worked 5.7 million hours on those projects in 2012, up from 400,000 hours in 2008, the AP reported.

"It has created more work for our business. There's jobs here for the first time in many, many years. Legitimate, good-paying jobs," one Pittsburgh-area contractor said of the fracking-induced oil boom, according to the AP.