Will the Next Labor Secretary Support Job-Killing Climate Measures?

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President-elect Biden has selected most of his nominees to head the federal departments, and he has made clear to them that addressing climate change should be their overriding concern. But doing so will frequently clash with the actual duties of these agencies. Recently nominated Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh makes for an interesting example, as he was a member of a union that has spoken out against the kind of job-killing climate measures we are likely to see more of in the next few years.

Long before being elected as Boston’s mayor, Marty Walsh was a member of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA). He even headed up the Boston local. Among other things, LIUNA provides many jobs for energy infrastructure projects such as oil and natural gas pipelines—the very kind of projects opposed by climate activists and their political supporters. For example, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has blocked two proposed pipelines that would bring additional supplies of much-needed natural gas into the state, and these decisions were supported by the state’s Democratic Congressional delegation.

In response, LIUNA’s General President Terry O’Sullivan fired off a strongly-worded 2019 letter, making clear to these anti-pipeline legislators that the union is “outraged to see yet another natural gas expansion project being used as a pawn for political gain.” O’Sullivan went on to note that “LIUNA’s largest growth in work for our members has been the energy sector, much of it in the pipeline sector, predominantly because of the growth in development of the nation’s natural gas sector.” He added that “it is unfortunate that you and some of your colleagues repeatedly drone false talking points written by the environmental fringe to advance a radical agenda which doesn’t create a single job or lower energy costs.”

Now, the anti-job “environmental fringe” that LIUNA was concerned about has a friend in the White House and many allies among the majority in both houses of Congress. Dozens of such projects, each with the potential to create hundreds if not thousands of jobs, are in greater danger than ever of not seeing the light of day.

There is little doubt that, as Secretary of Labor, Walsh will be very pro-union in most other respects. And the Biden administration and new Congress will likely try to compensate for fewer conventional energy infrastructure projects with lots of federal funding for so-called green jobs related to climate-friendly projects, though the experience from Obama’s massive 2009 stimulus package strongly suggests doing so will be a costly disappointment.

 Nonetheless, the risk to thousands of good-paying LIUNA jobs is very real, and it will be interesting to see if Walsh will put the climate agenda ahead of his own union brethren.