McKinley leads forum on protecting pipeline jobs
CHARLESTON — While President Joe Biden is pitching a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure package to Congress, First District Congressman David McKinley, R-W.Va., reminded people one of Biden’s first acts as president was canceling an infrastructure project with possible repercussions for West Virginia.
“On his first day in office, President Biden revived the Democrats’ war on fossil fuels,” McKinley said. “In doing so, in this war on fuel countless jobs and billions of dollars in economic revenue have been lost. Money that supports our local schools and hospitals. These actions are destroying those communities reliant on fossil fuels for their livelihood.”
McKinley was the moderator Tuesday afternoon of a virtual forum discussing Biden’s executive order canceling the Keystone XL pipeline in January 20 — his first day in office. McKinley said Tuesday’s hearing would be the first of several.
“This is an innovative way for us to get the message across to people,” McKinley said.
The Keystone XL pipeline, owned by TC Energy, was commissioned in 2010 to transport oil derived from Canadian tar sands from Alberta to storage tanks in Oklahoma and refineries in Illinois and Texas.
According to an October 2020 news release, TC Energy had awarded more than $1.6 billion in contracts to six union contractors for more than 800 miles of pipeline construction through three states starting in 2021. The contracts would have resulted in hiring more than 7,000 union skilled workers. When combined with existing contracts, the project would have had 11,000 workers.
Biden has made environmental protection a significant focus of his administration, including canceling the Keystone XL pipeline on day one, reversing previous permission for the project granted by former president Donald Trump in 2019.
“Now … President Biden revokes that permit retroactively,” McKinley said. “In reflecting on this denial, how do lost jobs and lost wages serve the national interest?”
In his executive order, Biden cited a 2015 review while he was Vice President that stated the pipeline “would not serve the U.S. national interest.”
“The Keystone XL pipeline disserves the U.S. national interest,” Biden’s January executive order stated. “The United States and the world face a climate crisis. That crisis must be met with action on a scale and at a speed commensurate with the need to avoid setting the world on a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate trajectory … Leaving the Keystone XL pipeline permit in place would not be consistent with my Administration’s economic and climate imperatives.”
In response, McKinley cited a 2013 U.S. State Department report under former resident Barack Obama that stated that the Keystone XL pipeline would have a minimal impact on climate change.
McKinley and other state and congressional leaders have been watching the Keystone XL controversy with great interest as natural gas pipeline projects continue across the state.
“Remember, Keystone is but one pipeline project under the microscope,” McKinley said. “From a business perspective, this uncertainty causes alarm for any of us who have been in business. Financial institutions and investors look for certainty when funding a project. Why would Wall Street or any other entity invest in a project that requires a permit simply to see it withdrawn by a different administration which could be years later?”
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey joined a 21-state group led by Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen filing a challenge to Biden’s executive order. Knudsen was a panelist on McKinley’s virtual briefing Tuesday. Part of the Keystone XL pipeline would have gone through Montana, providing much needed employment and property tax revenue for rural counties there.
“It’s sad that these rural communities are less important than the well-heeled players representing special interests with access to the White House,” Knudsen said. “Without consultation with Montana and without any consideration for the well-being of our citizens and without consultation with our ally Canada, President Biden canceled it with a stroke of a pen.”
According to West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, employment for pipeline construction in the state fell considerably in 2020 as the Mountaineer Xpress pipeline finished construction in 2019 and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project was canceled due to mounting legal challenges.
“As of the end of 2019, pipeline construction jobs numbered just under 4,000, a decline of 72 percent from the peak in mid-2018 at more than 14,500 jobs,” according to the West Virginia Economic Outlook report for 2021-2025. “The cancellation of the repeatedly delayed and increasingly expensive Atlantic Coast Pipeline by Dominion and Duke Energy does hurt prospects for future pipeline development in the region, including completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.”
McKinley and others believe that the Biden administration’s tone — set by his January executive order — will freeze further oil and natural gas pipeline development. Instead of curbing the use of fossil fuels, discouraging domestic oil and natural gas production will just shift production overseas to countries with more lax environmental standards.
And Biden’s new $2 trillion infrastructure package includes $16 billion to employee oil/natural gas workers and union construction workers in capping old natural gas wells, coal mine reclamation projects, and construction of solar and wind energy projects.
“When we hear the Biden … talking points on economic opportunity and their concern for blue-collar workers that have been neglected by the government, those words ring pretty hollow for us,” Knudsen said. “Their promises are as empty as the pipes sitting in empty construction yards in Montana now.”
A study conducted by the Energy Futures Initiative — led by former Obama administration Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz — found a $12,000 wage gap between workers employed in the natural gas industry and the solar industry.