The Laborers' International Union of North America, like most unions and most working people, care deeply about the environment. We are active partners in the Blue-Green Alliance, which strives to create good jobs that build an environmentally sustainable economy, while also putting some green in workers' pockets. We believe that we must care for the planet and the people on it.
However, we have become deeply alarmed at the strident, inflexible rhetoric that some in environmental, academic and Hollywood circles have embraced around the Keystone XL pipeline. As these activists pressure the White House in a last-ditch effort to delay or block the pipeline deal, they should be more concerned about the damage done to our country should the deal fall through.
Torpedoing the Keystone deal would be a direct attack on thousands of men and women who are desperate to be employed: Americans who have lost their jobs, their homes and their livelihoods. Opponents of the deal have downplayed the number of jobs the Keystone deal will create. They often cite a study which was designed to develop an argument against Keystone XL, in part criticizing the temporary nature of the jobs the project would create. That is disingenuous, as virtually all construction jobs are by nature temporary, albeit Keystone XL construction jobs will last much longer than typical construction jobs. Those who would block Keystone are naïve to think that private companies fund enough "green construction" jobs to put people to work now at the same level as would a cross-border pipeline.
Environmentalists risk isolating themselves even further from unions and working people over the Keystone XL-thousands of men and women who are just like Bruce Pearson. The 36-year-old South Dakota pipeline worker and father of four calls Keystone not "just a pipeline," but a "lifeline." It is unlikely those lining up to shout down the Keystone deal have experienced the challenges Pearson has faced. "I've been out of work while trying to raise a family. You don't know where you're going to get the house payment. You worry your family might go hungry."
In the pursuit of making Keystone a flashpoint, some environmental groups are showing their true colors. Their extreme ideology just doesn't allow them to sympathize with people like Pearson, who is struggling to get by.
Some in the academic community have jumped in to the debate as well, focusing on the impact on the oilsands in Alberta. The Canadian company that would construct the pipeline has made it clear oilsands development will continue -- either to deliver oil to the United States, lessening dependence on oil from hostile nations, or to China.
LIUNA members are angry and surprised that some of our fellow union brothers and sisters, who don't have any members in the pipeline industry and who themselves have never worked on a pipeline, now speak out as pipeline experts in their attempt to block Keystone. For thousands of LIUNA workers, the stakes are too high to not hold them accountable.
Laborers are well trained and they have the expertise of working in the traditional fields of oil and gas distribution. They are part of the workforce that does the hard and dirty job of extracting energy from this Earth, and they know we have to balance the need for jobs with protecting the environment.
Until our country doesn't need energy and our demand for it stops growing, working people will look for jobs to make ends meet. They know how to build pipelines, how to build nuclear plants and how to work in the coal industry. They also are trained and skilled in making sure this work is done safely and in the least environmentally destructive way possible.
Unfortunately, the sparks over the Keystone pipeline have been fanned into a raging political bonfire. If the President stops the pipeline, he is working against his own call for businesses to create private sector jobs and Secretary Clinton's call for foreign investment in our country. We believe that this president and administration, unlike others, is not willing to kick workers while they are down.
Terry O'Sullivan is General President of LIUNA -- the Laborers' International Union of North America.