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Capital Blight - LIUNA Official Declares, "the Earth is flat; I saw it with my own eyes!"

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus July 21, 2014

Those familiar with the IWW EUC will recall that we pull no punches in attacking the shortcomings of the business unions (the building trades in particular) on matters of both class and ecology, particularly the Keystone XL pipeline.

In late April of this year, Sean McGarvey, president of the North American Building Trades' Unions issued this statement calling for the expediting of the Keystone XL Pipeline and defending Alberta tar sands mining (which Keystone XL would facilitate, and a key--no pun intended--reason for widespread opposition to it by environmentalists).

In it, he declared:

"I've just spent several days with other building trades union leaders visiting the oil sands region and meeting with officials from the Canadian government as well as industry representatives and contractors...and what we heard, and more importantly what we saw with our own eyes, is nowhere near what the American public is being told by the radical environmental movement."

The assorted labor fakirs referenced by McGarvey included:

  • Terry O'Sullivan, General President; LiUNA
  • Ed Hill -International President; IBEW
  • Bill Hite - General President; United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters
  • Joe Nigro - General President; SMART (International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers)
  • Eric Dean - General Secretary; International Association of Ironworkers
  • Mike Pleasant - Administrative Assistant to the General President; United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters
  • Terry Healy- Vice President and Special Assistant to the President; LiUNA

There's little doubt that McGarvey is openly hostile to the environmental movement, evidenced by his attempts to marginalize the vast and growing popular opposition to Keystone XL (as well as many other) pipeline(s), tar sands mining, fracking, mountaintop removal coal mining, offshore drilling, and crude-by-rail (all of which are inevitably interconnected due to the current capitalist push to extract every known source of carbon before the impending carbon bubble bursts and strands $trillions in assets) as "radical" (read: fringe) environmentalists.

He claims (without any peer reviewed studies, corroborating evidence from independent sources, or even so much as a single citation) that Canadian government officials, industry representatives and contractors, and his own eyes tell him:

  • The development of the oil sands accounts for only 7.8% of Canada's annual overall GHG emissions; and only 1/640th of global GHG emissions.
  • The government of Alberta implemented stringent GHG regulations in 2007, becoming the first jurisdiction in North America to do so. Since 2007, these regulations have resulted in GHG reductions of 23 million tons, the equivalent of taking 4.8 million cars off the road for one year.
  • Since 1990 GHG emissions from oil sands development have been reduced by 26%.
  • The Royal Society in Canada has studied water quality impacts and its conclusions suggest that oil sands development are not a current threat to aquatic ecosystem viability.
  • Alberta law requires all lands disturbed by oil sands operations be reclaimed. All companies are required to develop a reclamation plan that spans the life of the project.
  • McGarvey wants us to believe that if the capitalists say something is "green" and "safe" that we should trust that information, especially if it's backed up by the (arch conservative, pro-fossil fuel extraction) Canadian government. There couldn't any conflict of interest there right? And of course, we can trust McGarvey's own eyes, because...well...he sees with them, and seeing is believing! (or so McGarvey wants us to think).

    If I were him, I'd get my eyes checked, because there's a whole bunch right in front of his eyes that he's not seeing. Either that, or he chooses not to see it.

    To begin with, McGarvey's claims about the "regulation" of Alberta's "insignificant" GHG emissions--which he expects us to believe are a direct result of voluntary efforts by tar sands mining interests, a very dubious implication by the way--are challenged by this report from the Pembina Institute which states:

    We recently reviewed the effectiveness of the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER) — the key climate regulation in the province. We found little progress toward reducing emissions, and Alberta remains out of step with the emissions reduction targets outlined in their 2008 strategy. It is clear from our assessment that a stronger SGER would be critically necessary if Alberta intends to adhere to their climate change strategy while allowing the forecasted industrial expansion in the province.

    That's merely the beginning of the blindness in McGarvey's "vision" however.

    Tar sands mining, fracking, Keystone XL, many other pipelines, and just about all things associated with "extreme (fossil and nuclear) energy" extraction are opposed by far more than "radical environmentalists", including oil dependent communities, alliances between indigenous peoples and cowboys, and even union members. Indeed, it's safe to say that opposition to these things is quite mainstream (however that term is defined).

    The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who're anything but "radical" environmentalists, argue that tar sands mining causes significant health impacts including, " causing increasing levels of air and water pollution that are then linked to health problems including cancer."

    Although their study covers all tar sands mining throughout North America, it specifically mentions problems associated with tar sands mining in Alberta, inducing:

    • Air pollution from tar sands operations;
    • Water pollution from tar sands operations;
    • Rising cancer rates in First Nations communities;
    • Tar sands pipeline spills;
    • Tar sands refinery emissions, and
    • The creation of dirty petroleum coke (pet coke).

    An independent, non related study carried out by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the Mikisew Cree, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Manitoba found significantly detrimental environmental impacts to both humans and nonhuman animals from Alberta tar sands mining operation. Perhaps McGarvey's eyes were closed for that one.

    Furthermore tar sands mining and fracking are inseparably related and fracking causes a similarly lengthy list of problems, including:

    • Methane and carbon pollution, and their contribution to climate change
    • Contamination of groundwater and soil
    • Air pollution impacts
    • Exposure to toxic chemicals
    • Waste disposal – fracking creates a legacy of large volumes of contaminated (and radioactive) fracked fluid
    • Large volume water use, often transported into communities with lorries, greatly increasing traffic flows, particularly in water-stressed regions
    • Fracking-induced earthquakes
    • Workplace safety –for example through exposure to chemicals and inhaling silica dust (sand) – which can cause lung disease and other health problems - as stated by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
    • Blowouts due to gas explosion
    • Infrastructure degradation, including problems with the integrity of the wells
    • Specific health impacts

    Strangely, McGarvey neglected or failed to see with his own eyes the numerous accountsshowing that tar sands mining and fracking are particularly dangerous or sometimes fatal to (the almost exclusively nonunion) workers in these jobs, particularly in Texas and North Dakota.

    Tar sands and fracking also result in increased transportation of these dirty, heavy, and dangerous crudes by a variety of modes (not just pipelines), including trucks, which cause wear and tear to poorly maintained rural highways, which in turn increases the risk of accidents involving these very same trucks.

    Of course, if anybody wasn't aware of the sheer number of accidents involving crude-by-rail in the past year, they've either been wandering in the desert or simply not paying attention. Lac Megantic was but one of dozens of similar mishaps, which in 2013 alone, outnumbered similar accidents over the preceding four decades.

    Such accidents have had a massive ecological and human toll--as entire communities (like Lac Megantic) have been blown to smithereens--not to mention an enormous toll on railroad workers themselves, many of whom are concerned about the lack of safety standards on crude by rail trains, but are afraid to speak out publicly out of fear of retaliation by their bosses

    Crude by rail accidents are only likely to increase if the capitalists get their way, because they're aggressively pursuing single-employee train crews, a move openly supported by SMART (one of McGarvey's building trades union coalition partners), but vehemently opposed by rank and file railroad workers. Apparently McGarvey's eyes aren't focused there either!

    Forget any claims that Keystone XL (or any other pipeline) will reduce the instances of crude-by-rail. As the capitalists try to extract as much carbon fuel as quickly as they can before the carbon bubble bursts, they're likely to increase transportation of the stuff by all modes.

    In any case, pipelines are no safer than crude by truck, rail, or ship. The pipelines are not as safe as their adherents claim. The heavier and dirtier crude that results from tar sands mining by its nature creates a heightened risk of pipeline breakages

    whether those pipes are laid by union workers or not. One only need look at the ecological damage that occurred when pipelines broke in Kalamazoo, Michigan or Mayflower Arkansas to see the results with their own eyes!

    The heavier and dirtier crude produced by tar sands mining is also endangering oil refinery workers and refining communities, especially when the refinery owners cut corners with safety and maintenance, which is what lead to the Chevron Refinery explosion and fire in August 2012, which caused 15,000 residents and refinery workers to go to hospitals seeking medical care, for example.

    And as for government regulation? Forget it! The capitalists own the government and are quite content to leave the fox solidly in command of the henhouse. Even while he talks about strengthening regulations on crude-by-rail and pipelines, President Obama has been privately cozying up to the fossil fuel and rail carrier interests who oppose the proposed changes. While derailments and pipeline breakages have increased, regulatory agencies charged with oversight over both have had their staffs cut. In fact, rail carriers who're content to maintain "blame the worker" safety policies (while they've cut their standard crew size from 5, to 3, to 2, and now propose cutting them to one) have resisted safety measures, such as "positive train control", for almost five decades! And regulation of the refineries that process the heavier, dirtier crude is no better. McGarvey's eyes must have missed these crucial details.

    McGarvey and his fellow building trades union officials are no doubt seeing no evil, hearing no evil, and speaking no evil over Keystone XL, fracking, and tar sands, because they believe the rhetoric about such activity representing a potential source of new jobs, but numerous times that claim has been thoroughly debunked

    Given all of this information, one must be forced to conclude that McGarvey goes through life with his eyes shut. The only question is whether that's out of ignorance or out of blind loyalty to capitalism. My eyes see the latter.