The conservative climate fear-mongering begins

Biden's Keystone XL order already is already inspiring false claims from the right.

Keystone Pipeline canceled, let the layoffs begin,” read the headline from Fox Business columnist Phil Flynn, following President Biden’s Day 1 executive order to revoke the controversial tar sands pipeline’s presidential permit.

It was just one of many articles published on Wednesday by conservative news outlets, as they and Republican politicians begin to adopt fossil fuel industry talking points designed to scare Americans into believing that Biden’s plan to prevent climate catastrophe will plunge them into poverty.

The effort is starting with wildly inflated claims of job losses and a twisted argument that fighting climate change is bad for poor people. In a segment on Fox Business, Alaska’s Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy said cancelling Keystone XL’s permit meant Democrats could no longer call themselves “the party that looked out for poor people.”

“When you stop projects like this that would bring cheap energy to America, you’re gonna hurt poor people first,” he said, contradicting government science that states literally the exact opposite.

Also at Fox Business, columnist Phil Flynn asserted that 11,000 jobs had been lost because of Biden’s executive order. “TC Energy [the company behind the pipeline, formerly known as TransCanada] said the Keystone XL was going to sustain more than 11,000 jobs in 2021 so we can start the Biden administration with a net negative 11,000 jobs job [sic] is lost,” he wrote. “Not bad for your first day.”

Fox Business followed up with a full news story, too, claiming Biden’s order “will kill thousands of American jobs.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board chimed in as well. Citing a vague “source,” it said TC Energy and unions “tried to persuade the Biden team by explaining Keystone’s benefits to progressives, including 10,000 American union construction jobs,” but were rebuffed. Thus, the WSJ said, “TC announced layoffs on Wednesday.”

“On day one Mr. Biden has already managed to kill high-paying, working-class jobs,” the WSJ editorial board wrote. It added that America should “expect many more losses” as Biden rebuilds the environmental regulatory regime Trump dismantled. It said cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline would not even “matter to the climate.” Then, it warned Biden’s “climate panic” would “trump nearly everything else in his Administration.”

It’s a revealing window into how Republicans and the fossil fuel industry plan to fight the new president’s climate efforts: By lying to the public about the enormous threat climate change poses to the economy and human life, while whipping them into a frenzy about the loss of temporary construction jobs that do not yet exist.

Those 10,000 construction jobs? They don’t actually exist

Some people may likely lose their jobs as a result of Biden’s order on Wednesday. TC Energy announced suspension of the project following the permit revocation, and Keystone XL President Richard Prior told the Associated Press that “over 1,000 jobs, the majority unionized, will be eliminated in the coming weeks.” This is not technically a layoff announcement, as the WSJ claimed, and it is nothing to be celebrated. But it’s also not something that should be exaggerated for political gain.

The 10,000 union jobs Republicans and the fossil fuel industry claim Biden killed were, first and foremost, hypothetical. Keystone XL was still awaiting permits in several states before it could begin construction, according to the Montana Free Press, and other permits are still tied up in legal challenges. TC Energy also isn’t directly employing Keystone XL pipeline workers; it issued grants in October to construction companies to do so. There’s little evidence that those companies have employed many people so far.

The jobs Keystone XL were eventually going to support were also mostly temporary—one-to-two year construction jobs, at most. “Once Keystone is completed, only 35 permanent employees would be needed to operate the pipeline along with 15 temporary contractors,” CNN reported back in 2017. “So, the Keystone XL isn't expected to be a boom for the job market by any stretch.”

The pipeline was expected to be a boom, however, for the climate crisis. “Emissions associated with the production, refining, and combustion of the tar sands in Keystone XL would have resulted in 168 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year (equivalent to the emissions from 35.5 million internal combustion vehicles)—emissions we simply cannot afford to lock in,” wrote Anthony Swift at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Biden administration rejected Keystone XL’s permit because it asserts the enormous economic consequences of climate change outweigh the economic benefits of 35 new permanent jobs. “Leaving the Keystone XL pipeline permit in place would not be consistent with my Administration's economic and climate imperatives,” the executive order states. “At home, we will combat the crisis with an ambitious plan to build back better, designed to both reduce harmful emissions and create good clean-energy jobs.”

Pipelines: a small sector rife with racial discrimination

As Republicans and conservative media outlets continue to push hard for the 10,000 temporary union jobs Keystone XL could provide, it’s worth considering who stands to benefit from their advocacy. The pipeline sector is relatively small in the context of the economy; only 49,300 people worked in the pipeline transportation sector as of December 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s fewer than the number of people who work at Bed Bath and Beyond.

Even the temporary work sector isn’t that big. According to market research firm IBISWorld, there were 220,191 people employed in the oil and gas pipeline construction sector at the beginning of this year. It ranks the pipeline construction sector as the 161st largest in the U.S.

The people who do work in pipelines, though, are disproportionately white. The latest numbers from the BLS show that white people make up 88 percent of oil and gas extraction workers; 88 percent of construction workers; and 87 percent of oil manufacturing workers, despite only making up 60 percent of the population.

The racial demographics are particularly important to consider now, as one of the main unions pushing for Keystone XL jobs was just hit with a class action lawsuit alleging longstanding, insidious racial discrimination against Black workers and female workers.

As NPR first reported, last week a group potentially containing more than 500 workers sued Pipeliners Local 798, claiming “minorities and women are relegated to permanent second-class status.” It claims they are routinely denied promotions over less qualified white men and subject to harassment in the workplace, including the widespread use of racial slurs which go unpunished.

Pipeliners Local 798 has been accused of racism before—and found extremely guilty. In the mid-80s, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found the union had “engaged in intentional discrimination resulting in desperate treatment of blacks and woman.” At the time, a federal judge noted the union had “no black members and … no female members until the eve of the trial.”

Today, the entire leadership team of Pipelines Local 798 is still all white men. Asked about it by NPR, the union’s business manager Danny Hendrix said, “The cream always comes to the top and I've surrounded myself by some of the best leaders in the pipeline industry. Are they white? They just happen to be, yes.”

The Keystone XL decision was not made for white men

Meanwhile, farmers, ranchers, and frontline indigenous organizers are cheering Biden’s Day 1 action on the pipeline, calling it a victory for environmental justice.

“After thirteen years of family sacrifice, court and permit hearings, driving in snowstorms, endless testimonies and denials from federal agencies as well as institutional racism, predatory economics, land grabs and many more obstacles; we can take a breath,” said Faith Spotted Eagle of Ihanktonwan Dakota.

Now we begin the serious business of changing these violent systems to address climate change, environmental justice, and social inequity in our lifetime.”

Catch of the Day:

Fish turns his back on the haters.

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