Obama, Keystone, and USA-Canadian mining jobs

The news wires are abuzz with the announcement that Obama has caved into his party’s environmental wing and killed the Keystone pipeline that would have carried Canadian oil to the refineries along the Gulf coast.  Obama spluttered some words about reducing car fuel consumption as a way of making up for the jobs the pipeline would have generated.  Let us face it: Obama has caved to the environmentalists who threatened to withdraw their support if he did not kill the pipeline.  One of those fancy magazines that I read a while ago had an article by Bill McKibben spelling out the full threat.   Here is one report on his role:

On November 6, 2011, Bill McKibben arrived at Washington, DC’s, Lafayette Park to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, designed to carry oil 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. McKibben, a Vermont writer and environmentalist, had been one of 1,252 people arrested in front of the White House in August and September, protesting the same pipeline. He’d spent two nights in the district’s Central Cell Block, and now was back with thousands more people and a bold new plan.

Here is McKibben’s response to the announcement;

“Assuming that what we’re hearing is true, this isn’t just the right call, it’s the brave call. The knock on Barack Obama from many quarters has been that he’s too conciliatory. But here, in the face of a naked political threat from Big Oil to exact ‘huge political consequences,’ he’s stood up strong. This is a victory for Americans who testified in record numbers, and who demanded that science get the hearing usually reserved for big money.   We’re well aware that the fossil fuel lobby won’t give up easily. They have control of Congress. But as the year goes on, we’ll try to break some of that hammerlock, both so that environmental review can go forward, and so that we can stop wasting taxpayer money on subsidies and handouts to the industry. The action starts mid-day Tuesday on Capitol Hill, when 500 referees will blow the whistle on Big Oil’s attempts to corrupt the Congress.”

Recently I spent a month in California.  The Republicans amongst my friends were convinced that if the USA just pulled out enough of its own natural gas, they would not need to import oil for the next three hundred years—if only Obama would let them frac the ground and pull out the gas.  Now these are Orange County Republicans, so I have no reason to dispute their opinions—or do I?

The point is that as good Republicans they were scathing of socialistic Canada and their pride was offended by the thought that they would have to rely on Canadian oil to fuel their big SUVs.   So they were not too worried about the pipeline going through.  “Let them sell the stuff to China,” was one profound opinion.   And that is probably just what will happen.

Another side of the issue: this morning I was interviewed by one of those firms that makes a living predicting a terrible upcoming shortage of workers in the Canadian mining industry.  They get government funds to put out gloomy report after gloomy report predicting a near-collapse of Canadian mining unless we…well you can guess the rest.  It includes spending more Canadian government money, whatever it is.

How long will it be before somebody comes out and tells us that killing the Keystone pipeline is a blessing for Canadian mining companies—it will lessen the demand for Canadian oil sands mining and hence the demand for so many non-existent workers.  Not unemployment understand; just that fewer of those precious, non-existant workers will not be required to make oil to send to the USA.

When I mentioned to him that with so many unemployed workers in the USA, aka not at work building a pipeline, he breathed a sigh of fear.  “Don’t need to be importing workers from the USA now, do we?”

So maybe it will all work out as McKibben hopes: Obama is re-elected; SUVs go away; we all take up baking for each other as a profession; people do not move from the place they are born, but write poems about clear ponds;  the wives weave sack-cloth like Penelope of old; and maybe the Chinese economy bursts its bubble, reducing the need for oil from Canada piped via Vancouver.

I somehow doubt this.  We are not all rich on popular but impractical books.  We cannot all afford to go to protest to be thrown in jail.  Most of us want a warm house, a dependable car, an occasional trip in an plane to visit grandkids, and gainful employment.   And the Chinese are no different, even though they censor such thoughts.

In some ways, I hope that Obama’s silly decision will be to the benefit of the Canadian economy: build our own refineries, pipelines, and distributions systems.  I suspect this decision will lessen rather than enhance Obama’s re-election progress. He will just have to leave the White House and go write books with McKibben and Gore.  Is the prospect that Romney might win and approve the pipeline one of the reasons Obama changed his previous decision to delay a decision until after the election?  I read it was the Republicans who forced his hand, and they stand to benefit.

Whatever, this is a fantastic example of politics affecting mining.  And the story will continue to unfold.

PS.  Here is a link to the best blog posting on the issue that I came across in browsing the web on this issue.  It tells of a worker, a tradeunion worker, opposing the pipeline.  He captures the dilemmas and conflict perfectly.  You may not agree with him, but it is worth reading.  Here is part of what he writes and concludes, although I cannot see how his plea for full employment is logically consistent with the rest of his argument:

That’s where I first learned something about working on pipelines.  I worked building the Texas-Eastern pipeline as it wound its way through the rolling hills of Central Pennsylvania.  Small teams of operating engineers, pipefitters, and laborers traveled across the state doing work we enjoyed and that we understood to be useful and important.  (We didn’t know then what we know now.)  It was a great job and I was a member of a great union, Laborer’s Local 158.  We formed friendships and shared a solidarity that touched us all deeply.

On another job building a railroad bridge across the Susquehanna river, a buddy of mine got fired by a hubris-filled college kid.  (The kid’s dad owned the construction company so the kid had been made chief foreman over all laborers.)  We struck and shut the job down.  The operating engineers, carpenters and ironworkers supported us.  Without that support we would have lost, but we won and my brother laborer was hired back.

To my friends in the climate protection, environmental, and sustainability movements I say:  We can’t let climate protection make victims of workers who happen through no fault of their own to be in the way of changes that are necessary to protect the climate.  Work with us in the labor movement to better understand that sustainability starts at the kitchen table.  Support full employment policies, support Blue-Green Alliance’s Jobs 21 campaign, support the AFL-CIO’s program for full employment, and fight for a just transition that protects the wellbeing of workers and communities who may be hurt by side effects of climate protection policies through no fault of their own.