(MintPress) – Environmentalists may have found an unlikely foe in the AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization representing 57 unions and 12 million workers. The labor organization announced support for pipelines generally without mentioning the Keystone XL pipeline specifically in statements made this winter during union meetings. The announcement is troubling for environmentalist groups hoping to expand the burgeoning coalition working to end the project that some believe could be “game over” in the uphill battle to curb carbon emissions and global warming.
The union announcement follows the largest environmental protest in U.S. history. Thirty-five thousand, representing dozens of environmental and faith-based groups, took to the streets of Washington, D.C. earlier this month demanding that President Obama reject the Keystone XL pipeline, a proposed $7 billion project that would transport up to 700,000 barrels of oil a day through 2,000 miles of international pipeline stretching from Alberta Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Obama has previously supported green energy development, authorizing $90 billion in funding for clean energy programs in the 2009 stimulus package, but has delayed any concrete decision on the pipeline.
“Pipelines are a low carbon emissions method of transporting oil and gas [pipelines] lower the cost of fuel they carry compared with other forms of transportation,” the AFL-CIO announced during their annual winter meeting in Florida last month.
This sentiment has been echoed by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who said “there’s nothing environmentally unsound about the pipeline.” For many environmentalists, these announcements are not in keeping with the progressive tradition of the union movement in the United States.
The AFL-CIO declined to comment to Mint Press News on this issue, but offered a written statement supporting the construction of oil and gas pipelines.
“The AFL-CIO supports the expansion of our pipeline infrastructure and a much more aggressive approach to the repair of our more than 2.5 million miles of existing pipelines. Repair and buildout of the natural gas pipeline system alone has been estimated by the INGAA Foundation as likely to create, on average, 125,000 jobs a year between now and 2035.”
Unions have been at the forefront of progressive struggles, including the civil rights movement, and more recently during the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. For many activists who see the pipeline as harmful to the environment, the union announcement is out of keeping with an otherwise progressive record. The support that the AFL-CIO has lent to the construction of pipelines may be enough to persuade Obama to greenlight the controversial project.
The union organization has also signaled its support for repairing existing pipelines throughout the country, especially when decaying infrastructure poses a threat to human health.
“When our energy infrastructure is allowed to decay, it becomes a threat both in terms of toxic leaks and the release of methane and other powerful agents of global warming. In Massachusetts alone, pipeline leakage is estimated to cost natural gas ratepayers $40 million per year.”
More than two million American construction workers — nearly one in five — are currently unemployed. A project promising more than 100,000 jobs for construction workers, truck drivers and plumbers would make a significant impact in reducing those numbers.
Obama has also expressed support for opening 75 percent of offshore drilling sites to drilling, a proposal that labor experts believe could create an additional 600,000 constructions jobs by the end of the decade.
The AFL-CIO is an national umbrella organization representing 57 unions and 12 million workers. Unions have historically backed the Democratic party and were major contributors to President Obama’s 2012 campaign.
The AFL-CIO donated $1.2 million to Democratic candidates in 2008, and $900,000 to candidates in the 2010 midterm election.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organization, reports that the AFL-CIO super PAC filed nearly $6 million in independent expenditures during the 2012 elections, including more than $2.5 million for the presidential race, in support of Barack Obama’s reelection.
Opposition to Keystone XL
The Keystone XL pipeline extension was originally proposed in 2008 by TransCanada Corporation, Conoco-Phillips and other oil companies with investments in the proposed project. Numerous groups have come out in opposition to expanding the current Canadian pipeline into a much larger project that transports oil across thousands of miles of the United States to the Gulf of Mexico.
Native American groups were among the first to oppose the project, both in its current form and the proposed extension. The existing Keystone Pipeline is located within 30 miles of more than 150 Indigenous communities in Canada.
TransCanada Corporation already maintains facilities on a dozen Native American reservations. More than 100 miles of the pipeline pass through Native American reservations, and numerous Native American communities are within few miles of TransCanada departments.
Native Americans across North America fear expanding the project would further undermine tribal land rights, pollute water, damage sacred religious sites and disrupt life for Indigenous communities. The opposition to this project is a major gripe included in the ongoing Idle No More movement, a burgeoning protest movement against the conservative Canadian Harper government.
Environmentalists across America have partnered with Native Americans to oppose the project. Protests have been principly organized by 350.org, an international environmental organization that has labeled the Keystone XL project a serious threat to the environment. In January 2012, 350.org founder and President Bill McKibben said that the pipeline would be “game over for the planet.”
The majority of climate scientists believe that the maximum safe level of carbon in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million, a figure that the world has already reached. The Alberta tar sands transported by the Keystone XL pipeline are expected to raise carbon levels an additional 200 parts per million.
Leading climate scientist James Hanson issued a warning against the Keystone project saying, ”If the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is essentially game over. There is no practical way to capture the CO2 while burning oil. We cannot get back to a safe CO2 level if unconventional fossil fuels, like tar sands are exploited.”
The largest climate protest in U.S. history was organized by 350.org, bringing approximately 35,000 people to Washington demanding that President Obama reject the pipeline. Joining 350.org members were people from The Sierra Club, The Hip Hop Caucus, Indigenous tribes and faith-based groups.
Nationwide, the American public remains firmly behind the Keystone XL pipeline. According to a Gallup opinion poll released March 2012, 57 percent of respondents believe the U.S. should approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Twenty-nine percent were opposed to the pipeline, while 14 percent held no opinion.
With unemployment hovering around 8 percent and citizens feeling the pressure of recent sequester spending cuts, $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years, a project like Keystone offering thousands of jobs and a steady flow of petroleum likely will have continued support from the majority of Americans.
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