Jobs Dominate Debate At Keystone XL Public Hearing
Hundreds of people turned out in Austin Wednesday to give their opinion of the Keystone XL pipeline project in Texas. Seventeen-hundred miles of pipeline would transport tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. But what some expected to be an environmental policy debate turned into a debate over jobs.
Large packs of construction job workers wearing bright orange and green t-shirts waited in line before doors opened to sign up to speak. They had organized and traveled as a group. Reno Hammond is with the Laborers’ International Union of North America headquartered in Illinois.
“We need these jobs,” Hammond said flatly. “We need to stop foreclosures on houses. We need people to be able to afford their jobs.”
Representatives from the U.S. State Department were present, but none spoke or answered questions. A public information specialist with the State Department said the meeting was strictly for giving public comment. Each person was given three minutes to talk.
Trevor Lubble with Public Citizen told the State Department the job numbers put forward by the pipeline and its backers were inflated. He cited a specific jobs study.
“The Perryman Group who was hired by TransCanada put out 120,000 jobs so that that number can be thrown around in meetings and in the media,” he said. “You know how they got there? They did a 100 year time line. We’ll have a 120,000 jobs over 100 years.”
Environmentalists further argued that many of those jobs likely would be temporary. An environmental impact study prepared by the US Department of State indicates that the project probably would not change the unemployment situation in the long run. Jack Reid, a union leader from the Midwest Region of the Laborers International Union of North America said that was okay.
“In fact all of us in the construction industry know that jobs are short term in nature,” Reid said. “The fact of the matter is, that’s nothing new. In the industry, we go from one job to the next.”
Some of the construction workers who spoke at the hearing were pipeline workers. Philip Stevenson from Oklahoma City is the director of pipeline for the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters.
“We’ve got probably the best trained workforce in the world,” Stevenson said. ” We’re concerned about the environment. We got to live here too. We’re worried about the air and the water quality and we feel like we can build this safer than anybody.”
But John Bolenbaugh, who said he once worked as a foreman for the TransCanada pipeline, traveled from Michigan to warn construction workers.
“We were told to bury oil,” he said. ” We were told to put grass over oil. We were told there is not oil left in the river.”
Other environmentalists expressed concern about the pipeline’s proximity to sensitive water supplies and the impact of a spill in a drought. But as Wednesday’s public hearing demonstrated, the possibility of thousands of jobs in the short term may outweigh environmental concerns over the long haul.
The public comment period ends October 9. A decision on whether to give TransCanada a federal permit to build its pipeline through Texas could come by the end of this year.