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Remarks of Terry O’Sullivan
General President, Laborers’ International Union of North America “Building Michigan’s Energy Future: How a Smart Energy Policy Will Create Jobs and Power Michigan’s Economy”
May 10, 2013
Thank you Alex for that very kind introduction. It is truly an honor and a privilege to be here in the great state of Michigan, speaking on behalf of the half-million proud members of the Laborers’ International Union men and women who work every day to build America.
I want to acknowledge LIUNA Vice President, Great Lakes Regional Manager and my assistant, Terry Healy… Michigan Laborers District Council Business Manager, Geno Alessandrini …as well as the representatives of Michigan LECET, the Building Trades Unions here today and of course, I must salute all of my strong, proud and united brothers and sisters of the Laborers’International Union.
I want to thank our employer partners who are with us today, partners such as Consumers Power, BP, Detroit Edison, Enbridge, ANR Pipeline and the American Petroleum Institute, which helped sponsor this important event.
I believe this is a landmark gathering for Michigan, symbolic of a new, promising, powerful partnership oflabor, management, industry and state government working together to create a new American energy renaissance.
Today I want to talk about building our country’s energy future through a comprehensive plan, one which includes projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline, and how that plan will impact our members, other construction unions and hundreds of thousands of working men and women, their families and their communities.
As the pain from the worst recession since the Great Depression lingers, with more than 1 million construction workers still out of work, job growth in the energy sector is helping thousands of LIUNA members feed their families, pay their bills and get back on their feet. If it were not for the technological revolution in energy production these construction workers and their families would still be down on their luck struggling to get by. As the recovery continues we believe the energy sector can help solidify economic growth and even help revitalize the American labor movement.
It was reported in Forbes magazine that recovering gas and oil through hydraulic fracturing holds the promise of as much as $305 billion in investment through the year 2020 and will support 3.5 million jobs.
By every measure, unless stunted by over-regulation or blocked by environmental extremists, production of natural gas and North American oil will rapidly increase, as will job creation, allowing the U.S. to overtake Saudi Arabia as the largest oil producer within the next four years and become completely energy independent by 2030.
I cannot overstate the job-creating impact that the energy sector is having, or the potential impact it could have on our organization.
Nationally in 2012, LIUNA members worked approximately 11.3 million hours under our National Pipeline Agreement, an 18% increase from 2011.
We’ve seen the same trend in the state of Michigan as well. Here the hours worked by our members in the pipeline industry have increased nearly five-fold between 2008 and 2012, and we are on track this yearin Michigan to increase hours nearly ten-fold since 2008.
The story is similar in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Texas and other states across the U.S. These are not just work hours, they’re not just statistics and they’re not just wells and pipelines. They’re lifelines to good union jobs with pay that supports families, benefits that protect the healthcare of workers and their kids and which provide a dignified and secure retirement. We call ourselves the Build America Union because building things is what we do. We also fight for significant investment in infrastructure and for jobsinitiatives from the state level to the federal level which make it possible to build our country.
We fight for our industry and the contractors who employ our members, whether it’s Keystone XL, hydraulic fracturing or the implementation of a rational energy policy.
We’re willing to raise our voices and to mobilize our members for as long as it takes to get the job done.
You may have seen our members at rallies in LIUNA orange shirts or testifying at state department hearings on Keystone. You may have read their letters to editors or heard them on radio talk shows, when it comes to job opportunities and their well-being there is no retreat and there is no surrender.
Unfortunately, the Keystone XL Pipeline has been in the news for years when it could have already been completed.
It is designed to be the safest, most sophisticated pipeline in the history of the industry, having undergone more environmental reviews than any other pipeline, equipped with real time monitors and automatic shut-off sensors to safely bring oil from a trusted neighbor and ally.
Public opinion pollsshow nearly 70% of Americans support Keystone.
It’s good for workers, it’s good for business, it’s good for the economy and it’s good for America, yet because of politics the pipeline has been put on hold.
Misinformation, exaggeration and just plain lies have become commonplace. Opponents have tried everything in the book to stop this project and one of the favorite lines of their political hacks in Washington, DC is that the pipeline will create only a few thousand temporary jobs.
I’m not an economist and I’ll leave it to others to decide whether Keystone will support 10,000 jobs or 20,000 jobs. Anyone that calls our work temporary obviously and unfortunately does not know or understand the nature of the construction industry.
The bigger story behind Keystone is that we are at a fork in the road, a defining moment in America’s history when we must choose either a path forward to an energy renaissance or a path backward.
Without increased energy production, we are heading toward an energy crisis. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our nation’s energy infrastructure a D+. Much of our existing pipeline and electrical infrastructure dates to the 1880's. Without significant investment and development it could be “lights out” for our children, who will live in a country where energy needs far outpace supply.
This is not a battle between those who say they want to protect the environment and those who want to create good green jobs. LIUNA believes in protecting our planet and we believe in addressing climate change.
The best way to protect this industry and grow it is to make sure production is safe for workers, for local communities and for the environment.
We’re proud that we have invested hundreds of millions of dollarsin training workers and that we have training centers in every state focusing on solar wind, nuclear residential, commercial and industrial energy efficiency, hydraulic fracturing, pipeline construction and other skills critical to the energy industry.
We’re proud that we’ve built solar farms, geothermal and wind farms right here in Michigan. At LIUNA, we have a position as progressive as any union and more progressive than most on goals for carbon reduction. We accept that climate change is man-made and that it is our
obligation to attempt to stop it. That’s why we are strong supporters of comprehensive climate change legislation.
Given our investment and given our commitment to training, safety and stopping global warming, it is insulting and repulsive to us, as it must be to you, that many in the environmental movement have made a strategic decision to give up on comprehensive climate change legislation, which is the real solution.
They have lost their way, forgotten their purpose and have instead chosen to use high-profile energy projectssuch as Keystone to agitate their members and raise money at the expense of workers’ livelihoods. They are waging guerilla warfare on a project by project basis, killing jobs and opportunity, and creating division as they move toward extremism without solutions.
They are not only opposed to Keystone. Many are opposed to natural gas extraction all-together. They are opposed to increasing domestic oil production, to dams that harness energy from water and nuclear power. In fact, in Utah, Environmentalists are opposing wind farms, because it’s estimated 46 birds a year will be killed by the turbines. In parts of California, they have opposed solar farms because their construction will cover some wildlife habitat in the Mojave Desert.
They don’t care that due to rising energy costs the working poor now spend an average of 20% of their income on energy, four times the average family expenditure. And they don’t care how many jobs they kill. They don’t know what it’s like to face foreclosure, to choose between groceries and gas, to struggle with monthly bills and to have to forego the dream of sending their kids to college.
They are elitists whose actions are based on fantasy. They need to look out their windows, get out of their ivory towers and into the real world for a change.
Our keynote speaker today is well respected for his knowledge of the energy field and is a visionary in his thinking about solutions. He is author of the book, “Why We Hate the Oil Companies.” I want to suggest a second volume, “Environmentalists and Alice in Wonderland.” Our opposition lives in a world where the laws of reason, logic and common sense don’t apply. Currently, about 10% of our energy is from renewable and that share will and should grow. There is no scenario, no possibility in which it grows fast enough to replace oil and gas in the short term.
Brothers and sisters, friends and guests, I believe life is defined by significant organizations, significant events and significant people. I believe this is a significant moment for Michigan, for LIUNA and for our country.
You are significant people representing significant organizations, making the compelling and in my view, indisputable case, for an “all of the above” energy policy that will spark economic growth, free our country from oil sold by hostile nations and make it affordable to heat our homes, power our factories, and move people and products.
We believe in protecting the planet and the people on it. We are for good jobs, we are for green jobs and we are for putting green in workers’ pockets.
Everyone in this room doesn’t always see eye to eye. We’ve had our differences in the past and we’ll have them again. Where we differ we will fight for our issues, but when it comes to our shared interests in creating jobs and abundant, affordable energy, we stand shoulder to shoulder. Too many projects and too many jobs have been stalled, delayed and blocked by politics and politicians. It’s time to turn that around. For too long good jobs and the well-being of working men and women have been road kill in Washington, DC. It’s time that politicians who put their finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing become road kill on the highway to
It’s time to stop politics from preventing energy independence. It’s time to draw a line in the sand here and now and say, “Not one more lost job, not one more drop of oil from countries that hate us when we can produce it here.”
The energy challenges we face are great and overcoming opposition won’t be easy. If a group as diverse as this can come together around a common vision, we can win and we will win.
My friends, I believe we’ve got to stand together, we’ve got to stay together, we’ve got to fight together and if we do, we will prevail together. We will build the Keystone XL Pipeline. We will continue to grow a vibrant natural gas industry. We will build the infrastructure for renewable energy sources. We will expand domestic oil production and we will power a new American economy with thousands of good union jobs, and in so doing we will change the course, the direction and the destiny of our unions, our states, our industry and our country.