Skip to main content

U.S. Unions Still Divided on Keystone XL Pipeline

* The Pipeline and U.S. Unions* * LIUNA On Keystone XL Pipeline Final Environmental Analysis* * Nurses Warn of Escalating Effects of Climate Change on Public Health*

printer friendly  
,

The U.S. State Department has released its final environmental review <http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/finalseis/index.htm> acknowledging for the first time Keystone XL could accelerate climate change, adding the equivalent of 5.7 million new cars to the road.  Some unions in the U.S. are strongly in favor of the pipeline, with the Laborer's International Union of North America (LiUNA) the most vocal. LiUNA's president Terry O'Sullivan's statement <http://www.liuna.org/news/story/liuna-on-keystone-xl-pipeline-final-environmental-analysis> on the State Department report is below. O'Sullivan said, "There is no environmental justification to block the construction or operation of the pipeline...it is time to harness the energy that a trusted neighbor can provide and lessen our dependence on oil from unfriendly and often tyrannical regimes." The Building and Construction Trades also stated that the debate on Keystone XL was now closed, and that the latest State Department report meant there were "no more excuses" <http://www.bctd.org/Newsroom/Latest-News/No-Debate-State-Department-Environmental-Analysis.aspx> and the project should now go ahead.

However, the U.S.' main nurses union, National Nurses United, criticized the report <http://www.liuna.org/news/story/liuna-on-keystone-xl-pipeline-final-environmental-analysis> and pointed to the impact of the project on public health and climate change. NNU Co-President Deborah Burger, Registered Nurse, said. "As a society we need to reduce the effects of environmental factors, including climate change, that are making people sick, and endangering the future for our children. That's why we oppose the Keystone XL pipeline." (See below for the NNU statement. NNU is one of 5 US unions that presently oppose the pipeline).  Speaking to TUED, Sean Petty, RN, reiterated the New York State Nurses Association's opposition to Keystone XL. "Following superstorm Sandy, my union came out against <http://www.nysna.org/news/press/070213.htm> the pipeline.  Along with NNU, we were criticized for taking this stance because we don't build pipelines or refine tar sands oil. But nurses every day care for patients who struggle with health crises aggravated by environmental pollution.  Fossil fuel use and climate change are making people sick and endangering the future for our children. We are standing up for our patients." Petty is a board member of NYSNA.

*National interest?*

The Executive Order under which decisions are made on transboundary energy projects such as Keystone XL requires a national interest determination which starts after the environmental review is completed. This information will inform a national debate involving a 30-day public comment period and possibly public meetings.

The State Department report is not a decisional document, but it means that the pressure will now be on President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry who have up to 90 days to make a decision to approve or reject the project.  According 350.org's Bill McKibben <http://350.org/mckibben-kxl/>:

   /"The intrusion of reality into this process is really important.
   The report concluded that in a scenario where we take climate change
   seriously and regulate climate pollution, this pipeline will indeed
   have a `significant impact' on climate change. So now we'll find out
   if that's the world Barack Obama and John Kerry want. This report
   gives President Obama everything he needs in order to block this
   project. This is the first environmental issue in years to bring
   Americans into the streets in big numbers, and now they'll be there
   in ever greater numbers to make sure the President makes the right
   call."/

The Departments of Defense, Commerce, Commerce, Energy, Justice, Transportation and Homeland Security are also evaluating the State Department's environmental assessment of the Keystone proposal. Of the eight agencies that have 90 days to weigh in, the EPA's evaluation is expected to be the most influential because of its expertise on the environment.

* * *

LIUNA On Keystone XL Pipeline Final Environmental Analysis:
Statement of Terry O'Sullivan, General President of LIUNA*

No More Delay, It is Time to Approve the Keystone XL Pipeline and Let Americans Get to Work

Washington, D.C. (January 31, 2014) - Terry O'Sullivan, General President of LIUNA - the Laborers' International Union of North America - issued the following statement on the final State Department environmental analysis of the Keystone XL pipeline:

"The final environmental analysis of the impact of the Keystone XL pipeline underscores what experts have said for five years: there is no environmental justification to block the construction or operation of the pipeline.

"Following the upcoming public comment period, there are no reasons for further delay. It is time to unlock the good jobs the pipeline will create, which are a lifeline to thousands of working men and women. And it is time to harness the energy that a trusted neighbor can provide and lessen our dependence on oil from unfriendly and often tyrannical regimes.

"There will continue to be extremists in the environmental movement who will try to block safe, job-creating projects to boost their fund-raising efforts, but they do nothing to address the real issue of climate change. They must not deny science. Rather than continuing to wage war on safe projects, we urge them to return to the fight for comprehensive climate change legislation, which is the only way our country and our world will make inroads in the battle against global warming."

* * *

National Nurses United press release on the State Department statement:
Nurses Warn of Escalating Effects of Climate Change on Public Health

The nation's largest U.S. organization of nurses today criticized the new State Department report on the Keystone XL Pipeline, presumably intended to encourage a green light on construction of the controversial project, for paying inadequate attention to the serious consequences on public health.

"There is broad concern about the harmful health effects linked to both the extraction and transport of tar sands, as well as how the Pipeline will accelerate the steadily worsening erosion of health we see every day as a result of climate change," said Jean Ross, RN, co-president of National Nurses United.

"Nurses will continue to oppose construction of this project, and call on President Obama to stand with our patients and our communities, not the big oil interests, to reject KXL," Ross said.

NNU cited numerous reports about the effects of Keystone and tar sands production.

First, extraction of tar sands oil is far more difficult than conventional oil drilling. The massive amount of water needed to separate the extracted product, bitumen, from sand, oil and silt, is contaminated with toxic substances that cannot be returned to any water source that may end up in human drinking water. Nearly all is dumped in large pools that are already infecting neighboring clean water supplies.  Communities downstream from the ponds have seen spikes in rates of cancers, renal failure, lupus, and hyperthyroidism.  In one small community of just 1,200 residents, 100 have already died from cancer.

Second, leaks from the transmission of the heavy, corrosive tar sands, over U.S. water aquifers, and rivers pose a major danger. In 2010, a tar sands oil pipeline ruptured near Marshall, Mi.  The diluted bitumen traveled 40 miles down the Kalamazoo River to Morrow Lake. More than a month later, state officials found that half of the residents in communities along the river reported respiratory ailments and other symptoms associated with the spill.  In 2011, TransCanada pipeline spills and ruptures occurred in North Dakota and Montana. On March 29, 2013, an Exxon Mobil pipeline with tar sands oil ruptured near Mayflower, Ark. For months after, residents cited persistent health problems, and independent water and air tests have shown elevated levels of contaminants.

Third, refining tar sands oil, notes Friends of the Earth, is dirtier than refining conventional oil and results in higher emissions of toxic sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide. Pollutants from tar sands refineries are directly linked to heart and lung disease, asthma, cancer and other serious health risks, as well as emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide which contribute to acid rain. More than 40 percent of Americans live in areas adversely affected by air pollution with levels of particle pollution that can cause higher incidents of asthma, heart attacks, and premature death.

Many climatologists and environmental activists have said, in contrast with the State Department report, that Keystone XL would aggravate climate change. Prominent environmentalist  Bill McKibben says burning all the oil in those tar sands would nearly double the atmosphere's concentration of carbon dioxide. NASA scientist James Hansen, a pioneer in climate research, has called Keystone "the biggest carbon bomb on the planet."

Carbon emissions are a major factor in intensifying climate change. Higher air temperatures can increase bacteria-related food poisoning, such as salmonella, and animal-borne diseases such as West Nile virus. Ground level ozone contaminants can damage lung tissue, reduce lung function, and increase respiratory ailments.

Finally, weather disasters linked to climate change are already severely compromising the health and living standards of millions. NNU has sent five teams of RN volunteers to provide disaster relief in the Philippines following super typhoon Haiyan, called the most destructive and powerful tropical cyclone ever to hit landfall. Sub-surface ocean waters recorded at up to 9 degrees Fahrenheit above average reportedly fueled the strength and size of the storm.

What RNRN volunteers saw were hundreds of patients experiencing immediate injuries and other health problems as a result of the storm, as well as the long term erosion of their health status due to the loss of their homes and livelihood. Similar stories can be told about many other disasters linked to climate change, including Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy in the U.S. where NNU also sent RN volunteers.

"Nurses care for patients every day who struggle with health crises aggravated by environmental pollution in its many forms," said NNU Co-President Deborah Burger, RN. "As a society we need to reduce the effects of environmental factors, including climate change, that are making people sick, and endangering the future for our children. That's why we oppose the Keystone XL pipeline."