Has the Honeymoon Already Ended Between Biden and Trade Unions over Keystone XL?

It didn’t take long. On his first day in office, President Biden revoked the federal permit granted by Donald Trump for the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that would bring 800,000 barrels per day of Canadian oil through Montana and South Dakota to link up with existing pipelines in Nebraska. No less than three trade unions expecting to provide some of the 10,000-plus jobs to build the pipeline (initial work was already employing 1,000) have expressed anger and betrayal over this move by the new president, whom they had strongly endorsed.

The United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters said in a statement that “the Biden Administration has chosen to listen to the voices of fringe activists instead of union members and the American consumer on Day 1.” The North America’s Building Trades Union similarly noted in its statement that “environmental ideologues have now prevailed, and over a thousand union men and women have been terminated from employment on the project.”

 The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), anticipating the administration’s excuse that it will make up for the lost jobs by subsidizing more renewable energy projects, added in its statement that “for the union members affected by this decision, there are no renewable energy jobs that come even close to replacing the wages and benefits the Keystone XL Project would have provided.”

There’s an interesting twist to LIUNA’s involvement in that President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh, is a longstanding LIUNA member. The Keystone XL decision has already figured prominently in last Thursday’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of Transportation nominee Pete Buttigieg. Walsh’s confirmation hearing has not yet been set, but he will certainly be asked about Biden’s job-cutting decision.

The most worrisome part of Biden’s rationale for rejecting Keystone XL is that it had nothing to do with any specific concerns about this particular pipeline but rather the generalized fear that “the U.S. and world face a climate crisis.” The message, sent with the exclamation point of being a first-day priority, is clear—most if not all oil and natural gas pipeline projects and anything related to the production and transport of fossil fuels will face strident White House opposition for the next several years.

Granted, one can question the sincerity of the unions’ claimed outrage given how clearly candidate Biden had signaled his hostility towards fossil fuels. But killing off Keystone XL on day one may have simply been too much to let slide, and there’s a lot more of the same likely to come.