THE BLOG
11/18/2014 08:14 am ET Updated Jan 18, 2015

5 Unions Oppose Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline and Efforts to Force Its Approval

In advance of a major Senate vote later today on whether to approve Keystone XL, five unions representing workers in nursing, health and domestic care, and public transit have released a statement opposing the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and efforts to force its approval. The Senate is scheduled to vote on a misguided bill, like its companion measure passed Friday by the House, designed to short-circuit the deliberative approval process and turn Congress into a permitting agency -- one that also would waive all environmental safeguards and legal challenges from the public. It's a terrible idea. No wonder the unions take a dim view of this effort, as have many Democrats and President Obama, who have made known their disagreement with this approach.

Keystone XL would transport 830,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to the United States Gulf Coast -- driving hundreds of thousands of barrels per day of additional tar sands production. The tar sands that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would transport would cause 27.4 million metric tons CO2e annually more than the same amount of conventional oil. This is equivalent to the tailpipe emissions of more than 5.7 million cars, or the emissions from more than 7 coal fired power plants.

What's more, the pipeline would threaten the Ogallala Aquifer and other areas along its path with devastating spills, cause increases in refinery pollution, and an increase in tar sands extraction -- which is decimating the Boreal forest and causing serious health challenges for First Nation communities downstream. Meanwhile, it would create few very few jobs. Even Russ Girling, TransCanada CEO, has admitted that "yes, the actual operating jobs are about 50."

So it is no wonder that these five unions are opposing Keystone XL. They write:

We are for jobs. There is no shortage of water and sewage pipelines that need to be fixed or replaced, bridges and tunnels that are in need of emergency repair, transportation infrastructure that needs to be renewed and developed. Many thousands of jobs could also be created in energy conservation, upgrading the grid, maintaining and expanding public transportation--jobs that can help us reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and improve energy efficiency.

Their full statement follows.

Railroad repair workers. Credit: CTA Web. November 18, 2014 Contact: Fernando Losada, National Nurses United, (510)610-5476

National Nurses United 1199 SEIU Health Care Workers East Amalgamated Transit Union New York State Nurses Association National Domestic Workers Alliance

We are five unions/workers organizations representing workers in nursing, health and domestic care, and public transport.

We are opposed to the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. If fully constructed, it will bring dirty tar sands oil through the United States and to the global oil market at a time when we should be drawing the line against the most carbon polluting fossil fuel in order to protect public health, defend the rights of farmers, ranchers and native communities, and avoid out of control levels of global warming and climate instability.

Climate change is already wreaking havoc in areas of the world - like the Caribbean, the Philippines and Central and South America - where many of our members have families and loved ones. The present drought in California, the wildfires across the Western and Central United States, and killer storms like Katrina and Sandy are enough to demonstrate that climate change is also affecting the United States.

From the ground to the pipe to the refineries, Keystone XL's tar sands oil, with its thick, dirty, corrosive properties, poses a clear and present danger to public health. Toxic contaminants in the massive water needed for extraction are infecting clean water supplies, with towns nearby in Alberta experiencing spikes in cancer deaths, renal failure, lupus, and hyperthyroidism. Huge pipeline spills near Marshall, MI and Mayflower, AR have led to respiratory ailments and other health ills. Pollutants from tar sands refineries are linked to heart and lung disease, asthma, and cancer. Federal policy should be guided by the precautionary principle and must uphold public health and safety above all else.

The Keystone XL jobs numbers claimed by the oil industry and its backers in Congress are not based on sound research. The southern leg of the pipeline has already been built, and yet the job numbers the oil industry and their political allies claim will be created by the project seem to keep on rising.

We are for jobs. There is no shortage of water and sewage pipelines that need to be fixed or replaced, bridges and tunnels that are in need of emergency repair, transportation infrastructure that needs to be renewed and developed. Many thousands of jobs could also be created in energy conservation, upgrading the grid, maintaining and expanding public transportation--jobs that can help us reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and improve energy efficiency.

Congress is not set up to be a permitting authority, and this pipeline doesn't even have an approved route. The ongoing review process should continue, and the decades-long precedent of having the Executive Branch make decisions on cross-border projects should not be overturned.

This blog was written jointly with NRDC Advocate Elizabeth Shope.