Laborers’ O’Sullivan, senators unite on bipartisan push for energy infrastructure improvements

Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan and the bipartisan leaders of the Senate panel that handles energy bills are uniting on a push for energy infrastructure improvements.

And their only complaints – from Senate Energy Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and top Democrat Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. – is that the GOP-run House is apparently refusing to cooperate.

O’Sullivan was one of several witnesses who outlined the need for improving and upgrading U.S. energy infrastructure. He pushed that point, and the well-paying middle-class jobs it would bring to construction workers, including Laborers, in erecting those projects.

And there’s no question about the need, the union leader and the two senators agreed.

“Our country needs a common-sense energy policy,” O’Sullivan testified on March 14. “Replacing foreign sources of energy with domestically produced energy makes sense. Fostering domestic job creation instead of funding foreign extremists” by buying foreign oil “is a rational goal. Incrementally lowering emissions makes more sense than the ‘all or nothing’ approach embraced by the political extremes.

“Moving forward with a non-partisan energy agenda will facilitate significant private investment that will create millions of new jobs across the economy. It is also critical to addressing and improving the vital energy infrastructure that keeps our lights on, that heats and cools our homes and businesses, and that moves people and goods across the country.

“This infrastructure is in desperate need of repair and modernization. In its most recent report card on the state of America’s infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our energy infrastructure a grade of D+.”

The senators stressed infrastructure improvements. O’Sullivan honed in on jobs, too.

Just 23 pipeline construction projects under way or awaiting final permits and approval – including the controversial Dakota Access line from the Dakotas to Illinois – will employ tens of thousands of construction workers combined, including 16,000 Laborers, he said.

And union apprenticeship training in the skilled trades, for work on those pipelines and elsewhere, provides a pathway to middle-class employment without the need for a college degree and enormous sums of student debt, O’Sullivan added.

“Projects that address this energy infrastructure crisis translate into jobs that put food on families’ tables, roofs over their heads, and gas in their cars and trucks. These jobs enable them to put their children through college, to save for retirement, and to spend money in business establishments that employ others,” he explained.

“Although, like all construction jobs, these jobs last only as long as it takes to complete the project, a steady succession of such so-called ‘temporary’ jobs is what enables construction workers to build rewarding, middle-class careers,” he stated.

But there are several hurdles — both political and bureaucratic — to the pipelines and other construction projects, O’Sullivan and the senators pointed out.

For Murkowski and Cantwell, the problem is the GOP-run House and particularly its Republican faction that opposes spending on anything, including infrastructure.

“Chairman Murkowski and I put together a bipartisan energy bill that would have made needed investments in our energy infrastructure and workforce,” Cantwell explained. “We passed that bill in the Senate by an 85-12 vote and then spent several months negotiating” a final version with the GOP-run House.

“Unfortunately, Speaker Ryan and the House, in my opinion, dropped the ball in implementing this important energy legislation that would’ve helped our country move forward. I hope this year the Speaker will finally recognize that protecting our electricity grid from attack and making needed investments in our energy infrastructure needs serious attention.”

O’Sullivan said permits, or lack of them, are a big hurdle to energy projects getting started. Multiple local, state and federal agencies must sign off on a project, and make sure it meets environmental standards, too, he noted. The process can take years.

That frustrates building trades unions, whose members are poised to start construction. But environmental groups declare such thorough reviews are needed to ensure projects don’t wind up polluting the air and water.

Citing Murkowski’s Alaska as an example, O’Sullivan said pipelines there show “natural resource development can coexist with natural beauty, building family-sustaining careers while maintaining the natural majesty of wild places.

“The Trans-Alaskan Pipeline has provided employment opportunities for tens of thousands of Alaskans, including many members of LIUNA. Pitting jobs against the environment is a false dichotomy that benefits neither,” he stated.

So the Laborers “support regulatory reform that: Streamlines necessary review processes,” lets separate agencies and governments carry out concurrent reviews and “provides for more definitive permitting processes that enable projects to move forward without delay once all regulatory concerns have been addressed.”

That was a polite way of protesting against court suits and protests that have blocked pipelines, including protests from other unionists who are allied with “green” groups.

The panel has not set a work session on a new energy bill, but both Murkowski and Cantwell said it could occur soon, as they have last year’s legislation as a starting point.

Source: PAI