by Bill Onasch
Accentuate the Positive
After the State Department issued its rubber stamp approval of a Supplementary Environmental Impact Assessment, giving a thumbs up to construction of the XL short-cut extension of the Keystone pipeline system, the Speaker of the House demanded that President Obama stop delaying the 100,000 jobs that it will create. NBC News initially reported–and later partially corrected on its website–a claim that 42,000 construction jobs would be generated.
The actual estimates in even the State Department pro-pipeline report were 3-4,000 short-term construction jobs over a 1-2 year period. After completion TransCanada will need only 35 full-time and 15 part-time inspectors and maintenance workers to run XL. That’s the extent of the employment bump for promoting the dirtiest of all hydrocarbons while setting the stage for inevitable spills and leaks.
Pipeline promoters have supplemented their lies about job creation with disingenuous claims that safe pipelines prevent fiery disasters such as have been seen in recent train derailments. The flaming tank cars in several wrecks–a serious threat to be sure–weren’t carrying the sludge coming from the Alberta tar-sands; they were transporting the highly volatile fracked oil from the Bakken in North Dakota.
The tar-sands syncrude–which is the consistency of creamy peanut butter–doesn’t readily ignite. But it seeps deep in to soil, and sinks in water to the bottom, making it much more difficult to contain and clean up than real oil. There’s been high profile spills of syncrude by another pipeline company, Enbridge. And there have been ruptures in other TransCanada pipelines that the company and Tory Canadian government have tried very hard to hide from the public. A CBC report this morning,
“On July 20, 2009, the Peace River Mainline in northern Alberta exploded, sending 50-metre-tall flames into the air and razing a two-hectare wooded area. Few people ever learned of the rupture — one of the largest in the past decade — other than the Dene Tha’ First Nation, whose traditional territory it happened on. In an early 2011 draft report about the incident, the National Energy Board criticized TransCanada, the operator of the line owned by its subsidiary NOVA Gas Transmission, for ‘inadequate’ field inspections and ‘ineffective’ management. Final reports are typically published by the investigative bodies, either the NEB or the Transportation Safety Board, but this report wasn’t released until this January when the CBC obtained it through an access-to-information request. Environmental policy expert Nathan Lemphers says he’s ‘deeply concerned’ that the federal regulator kept the ‘fairly damning’ report behind closed doors. ‘It’s quite likely that there are other incidents like this that the public simply doesn’t know about,; said Lemphers, a former Pembina Institute analyst. ‘This one stands out simply because of its size and the timing and the company involved.’”
Yesterday an AFP article exposing still further deceit opened,
“The amount of harmful pollutants released in the process of recovering oil from tar sands in western Canada is likely far higher than corporate interests say, university researchers said Monday. Actual levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) emissions into the air may be two to three times higher than estimated, said the findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal. The study raises new questions about the accuracy of environmental impact assessments on the tar sands, just days after a US State Department report said the controversial Keystone pipeline project to bring oil from Canada to Texas would have little impact on climate change or the environment.”
The mass movement against XL was late coming. Three earlier Keystone lines were established without much visible opposition. It has now, however, become a pivotal battle uniting pale greens, social networking activists, a few unions (especially National Nurses United and the Amalgamated Transit Union) and eco-socialists. This movement has well explained the exceptional environmental and climate damage through all phases from the tar-sands to consumer tail-pipes. It has done reasonably well in exposing the fraudulent claims of job creation. And, for the first time since the Seventies, they have carried out mass demonstrations and civil disobedience around such issues. For this the movement deserves credit and rates our support.
But it is a defensive movement built around negatives, starting with blocking XL. Most correctly call for eliminating fossil fuels–but renewable alternative energy has yet to establish its viability. We want to end car dependency at a time when already inadequate transit is being cut. Our goals would displace millions of workers in a jobless recovery and we express only vague notions about how to put them back to work.
When the now defunct Labor Party launched the Just Health Care campaign for a much enhanced version of Canadian-style single-payer it was more than just a wish list supplied by progressive doctors and nurses. Reputable economists such as Dean Baker worked on developing a detailed, realistic budget that could pay for world class medical, dental, mental, and drug care for all for far less than is spent on corporate health delivery.
The Labor Party eventually succumbed to resource starvation as few union leaderships were prepared to break with Democrat “friends.” But, along with others, the Labor Party helped build popular support for single-payer. It was not dismissed as pie-in-the-sky because the plan demonstrated its goals were not only just but achievable. During the debate leading up to the disastrous Affordable Care Act, whenever the single-payer option was included in polling it got the strongest support by far. The Labor Campaign for Single-Payer continues this fight even today.
In my opinion, this is the general approach the climate/environmental movement must adopt if we are to save our biosphere from destruction by global capital. We have to take a convincing case to the working class majority that energy conversion, alternative transportation, organic sustainable agriculture, and sensible conservation can be done in a full employment economy providing quality living standards for all.
Even though I don’t claim to be either a climate scientist or economist I’m convinced this is the only perspective with a chance of securing human civilization. We need scientists, engineers, and economists to start fleshing out a concrete plan for positive change. They need to be rooted in a working class movement for–as a eco-socialist group adopted as a name–system change, not climate change.
It is likely these issues will be addressed at the upcoming Labor Notes Conference in Chicago April 4-6. 1400 attended the last conference two years ago and a similar number are expected this year. Between now and then I will offer some ideas about what a positive plan should include and I would welcome any comments from readers at ACCJ[at]kclabor.org.
* The first contested election in decades is shaping up for top leaders of the International Association of Machinists. Jay Cronk, back in the shop as a rail machinist in New Haven after years in various important union positions, is challenging incumbent Tom Buffenbarger for president. Cronk has centered most of his fire on the excessive salaries and perks of the top bureaucrats. Others on a Reform slate, especially from IAM 751 at Seattle area Boeing, have emphasized Buffenbarger’s teaming up with bosses to drive through give-back deals.
* The Oregonian reports, “The leadership of Salem-based Local 503 of Service Employees International Union received a stinging rebuke this weekend from members who rejected their bid to rewrite the local’s bylaws and merge with another SEIU local. Local 503’s General Council — the organization’s governing body — on Saturday voted 118-75 against the unification proposal involving the state’s largest union. ‘I gotta tell you, the delegates to the General Council made it clear that Local 503 is going to remain a locally run union under the control of members,’ said Joe DiNicola, a former Local 503 president who was one of the proposal’s major opponents. SEIU Local 503 represents some 55,000 state workers and in-home care providers and is one of the most powerful voices in state politics.”
* Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga will vote next week whether to be represented by the UAW. The company said, “Volkswagen Group of America and the UAW have agreed to this common path for the election. Volkswagen is committed to neutrality and calls upon all third parties to honor the principle of neutrality.” But as Steven Greenhouse notes in the New York Times there aren’t many neutrals there. “Many Tennessee lawmakers, including Gov. Bill Haslam and Senator Bob Corker, have voiced concern about the U.A.W.’s drive, warning that the unionization of the plant would make it less competitive and hurt Chattanooga’s and Tennessee’s business climate….William L. Canak, a labor relations expert at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, said he expected a surge in anti-U.A.W. activity in Chattanooga over the next week.” Surprisingly, Tennessee is the fastest growing state in the U.S. for union membership.
Our sole source of income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.