AFL-CIO president’s reaction to Keystone XL shutdown shows divide between union leadership, members: experts

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s muted reaction to President Biden’s decision to derail the Keystone XL pipeline project shows the divide between union leadership and union members, Heritage Foundation economics research fellow Rachel Greszler told Fox News.

“The fact that Trumka was relatively indifferent to Biden’s move to kill thousands of union jobs is troubling and revealing,” Greszler said. “It shows that unions don’t actually represent workers’ interests, but rather union leadership’s quest for power.”


Trumka expressed displeasure with the pipeline project cancellation but also praised Biden as possibly “the best union president we ever had” during an “Axios on HBO” interview that aired on Sunday.

Richard Trumka, president of the American Federation of Labor & Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), speaks during the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Legislative and Grassroots Mobilization Conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. Photographer: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“I wish he hadn’t done that on the first day because the Laborers International [Union] is right,” Trumka told Axios. “It did and will cost us jobs in the process. I wish he had paired that more carefully with the thing he did second by saying, ‘Here’s where we’re creating jobs.'”

Labor groups have said Biden’s Day One decision to nix the Keystone pipeline quickly eliminated 1,000 union jobs and could kill 10 times more in construction jobs that were expected to be created by the project.


“It suggests that he’s going to get something in return for sitting silent on a matter that is negatively impacting [workers],” Greszler said, referencing union-backed policies like a $15 federal minimum wage and the PRO Act. 

Biden’s pledge to create new “high-paying union jobs” through investments in green energy infrastructure projects.

In an Aug. 21, 2017 file photo, workers make sure that each section of the Enbridge replacement Line 3 that is joined passes muster in Superior, Wisc. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii /Star Tribune via AP)

In an Aug. 21, 2017 file photo, workers make sure that each section of the Enbridge replacement Line 3 that is joined passes muster in Superior, Wisc. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii /Star Tribune via AP)

“There’s a gap between what they’re promising and what’s actually possible,” Greszler said. “You can talk about these green jobs, but it’s going to take years, if not decades, to actually generate these jobs.”

Daniel DiSalvo, professor of political science at the City College of New York, told Fox News that he doubts the Keystone XL cancellation will be a turning point for union relations with Biden and the Democrats. Once economic growth post-pandemic kicks in, unions will forget about the loss, DiSalvo said.

“That’s going to assuage everyone if you have job growth,” he said.

However, DiSalvo said there’s an “inherent tension” between the union leaders and environmentalists, and Biden is trying to court both.

“Biden, depending on how ambitious his green, environmental agenda becomes, that could act as a constraint on growth,” DiSalvo said, adding that while some individual union members may abandon Democrats, union leadership tends to be intertwined with the Democratic party.

Fox News’ Peter Doocy and White House press secretary Jen Psaki sparred over the timeline of Biden’s green jobs plan.

“When is it that the Biden administration is going to let the thousands of fossil fuel industry workers, whether its pipeline workers or construction workers who are either out of work or will soon be out of work because of Biden’s EO, when it is and where it is that they can go for their green jobs?” Doocy asked.


“As the president has indicated when he gave his primetime address to talk about the American Rescue Plan, he talked about his plans to also put forward a jobs plan in the weeks or months following,” Psaki eventually responded. “He has every plan to do exactly that.”

The AFL-CIO did not respond to a request for comment.

Fox News’ Michael Ruiz and Fox Business’ Thomas Barrabi contributed to this report.

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Keystone XL: Why I fought for – or against – the pipeline

To me, the question is – how do we make this the safest pipeline in the world? How do we make it environmentally friendly? TC Canada, my partner, is trying its very best to put its best foot forward to make this the safest pipeline, to make sure this pipeline is successful. There are other resources out there to make the world more safe, but we’re not there yet.

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Kenney wants ‘reprisals’ for blocking Keystone — but what are Canada’s options?

When U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order revoking the presidential permit enabling construction of the cross-border Keystone XL pipeline Wednesday afternoon, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney suggested the future of this project could still be up for negotiation, if only the federal government would get tough.

And if U.S. Democrats want to move on and not continue what Kenney called “a constructive and respectful dialogue” about the energy and environmental issues the project raises?

“Then it is clear that the government of Canada must impose meaningful trade and economic sanctions in response to defend our country’s vital economic interests,” he told reporters. “Not doing so would create a dangerous precedent.”

In an interview Thursday with CBC News Network’s Power & Politics, Kenney said he was worried about the precedent that could be set for other pipeline projects if the Americans start retroactively repealing permits.

“The Biden administration refuses to give this country sufficient respect to hear us out on this pipeline. In that policy context then, yes, there absolutely must be reprisals,” he said. “We need to stand up for ourselves.”

WATCH: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says Ottawa ‘folded’ on Keystone

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the federal government ‘folded’ in response to U.S President Joe Biden’s decision to revoke the Keystone XL pipeline. 2:14

But what does Kenney mean by “reprisals”? What’s legally possible? And what’s wise, at this point in Canada’s relationship with a new administration?

Let’s start with the most obvious legal path: seeking damages under Chapter 11 of the original North American Free Trade Agreement.

New NAFTA protects ‘legacy investments’ 

After the Obama administration blocked Keystone’s permit, its owner — then called TransCanada — used NAFTA’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process to seek $15 billion in damages.

The company later dropped its case when U.S. President Donald Trump reversed the decision. 

Critics of Chapter 11 proceedings say governments should not be constrained in their ability to regulate in the public interest by the threat of lawsuits from corporate investors.

The new NAFTA tried to address this, with stronger measures on the environment and weaker investor protections.

Canada and the U.S. agreed, however, that their ISDS process would continue for three more years, offering “legacy investors” like TC Energy some continued protection.

Because of its $1.5 billion equity stake, the province of Alberta could join the company’s action and try to recoup its own losses. Kenney told Power & Politics he believes Alberta’s case is strong.

But it isn’t a slam dunk. Both TC Energy and the Alberta government could have anticipated that Trump would lose the election and their permit could be revoked. Democratic pledges to block the pipeline should have factored into their investment risk calculations.

On the other hand, Biden wasn’t deterred by the risk of re-igniting a legal case by re-revoking the permit.

“It does set an unfortunate precedent and possibly even has a cooling effect on this type of investment, so I do think Canada should fight hard for this,” trade lawyer John Boscariol told CBC News.

A settlement that compensates for costs and future lost profits could be pricey for the American taxpayer, but it would not reverse Biden’s decision.

Biden acted on ‘climate imperatives’

Chapter 31 of the revised NAFTA also has a state-to-state dispute settlement process — for the times when one country feels another isn’t keeping its commitments.

The U.S. recently initiated a Chapter 31 consultation on Canadian dairy import regulations. Could this executive order on Keystone trigger a Chapter 31 complaint by Canada?

When President Barack Obama made his move, TransCanada argued that Congress, not the president, has the proper constitutional authority to regulate pipeline projects.

Since Democrats will control both the Senate and the House for the next several years, it’s not clear there’s any point in reviving that argument now.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, meeting with Joe Biden in Ottawa in 2016. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

Has the U.S. violated anything in the new NAFTA? That’s also unclear, especially since one of the goals of its do-over was to give governments more power to regulate or legislate in areas like the environment.

Biden’s executive order said the pipeline “disserves the national interest” because the U.S. and the world are facing a climate crisis, and domestic efforts to reduce harmful emissions “must go hand in hand with U.S. diplomatic engagement” as it exercises “vigorous climate leadership.”

“Leaving the Keystone XL permit in place would not be consistent with my administration’s economic and climate imperatives,” it said.

Reacting to the executive order, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn’t mention any perceived violations of U.S. trade commitments and made no threats.

“While we welcome the president’s commitment to fight climate change, we are disappointed but acknowledge the president’s decision to fulfil his election campaign promise on Keystone XL,” the prime minister said in his statement Wednesday evening.

International Trade Minister Mary Ng’s office said Thursday that stands as the federal government’s official response.

So what about ‘sanctions’?

Punishing countries that threatened American industries was a feature of Trump’s trade policy.

His administration’s use of “national security” as justification for tariffs on sensitive global commodities like steel and aluminum was denounced as an abuse of measures intended only for emergency situations, such as wars. 

Protecting domestic companies from harm may be important politically, but it’s not “urgent” in a way global trading rules allow.

Retaliation is sanctioned as a remedy following the successful arbitration of a dispute. Even then, it’s meant to be proportionate to the damage done.

When the Trump administration was lashing out with tariffs, Canada joined other countries in demanding a return to “rules-based trade.” 

Canada has tried to play a leadership role on reforms to make the World Trade Organization more effective in resolving disputes.

So it’s difficult to imagine the Trudeau government striking back at Biden’s order with sanctions, however strongly Alberta’s premier insists on retaliation.

While Kenney may resent the fact that steel and auto workers were supported with retaliatory tariffs, while oil and gas workers apparently won’t see the same, the United States’ behaviour in the two cases isn’t really comparable. The steel tariffs were condemned as illegal under global trading rules. Biden’s executive order is not.

Any improvised tariffs Canada could consider now would amount to more taxes on Canadian consumers, at a time when the government wants the economy to grow, not recede further. Lashing out in some other tit-for-tat regulatory fashion to harm the U.S. would most certainly be called out and punished.

Trade wars are not — as Trump once famously suggested — easy to win. Particularly with a much-larger neighbour you need to work with on other files.

“We are going to focus on all of the areas of cooperation,” Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau told Power & Politics Wednesday. “When you develop a relationship with somebody, you take into consideration everything, and there are going to be areas where we have a difference of opinion.”

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TC Energy and Alberta face long odds if they sue U.S. government over cancelled Keystone XL

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Coleman said both cases would require some updating given the new circumstances and could have their merits, but the odds are against both TC Energy and the Alberta government because the U.S. has never lost a Chapter 11 case and paid damages.

“Even if it’s stronger than the average argument, no argument has ever been successful in winning compensation from the U.S. under NAFTA,” he said.

The language contained in the presidential permit issued by Trump, as well as the weakened provisions for seeking damages in the new USMCA trade agreement, will make it very challenging for Keystone XL proponents to challenge Biden’s decision, said Stephen Vaughn, a partner in the international trade team at King & Spalding LLP in Washington D.C., and previously general counsel for the U.S. Trade Representative.

The amended presidential permit Trump signed on July 29, 2020, specifically states Keystone’s “permit may be terminated, revoked, or amended at any time at the sole discretion of the President, with or without advice provided by any executive department or agency.”

Vaughn said it’s highly unlikely that either legal arguments or diplomatic overtures will change Biden’s position on Keystone XL.

“I think the view down here is that anything the president announces on day one, the president is pretty dug in on that,” Vaughn said. “I’m not aware of any presidents that did something on day one and then 90 days later think, ‘That was a mistake and I shouldn’t have done that.’”

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Green Party leader on Keystone XL news

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul reacts to reports U.S. president-elect Joe Biden has indicated he plans to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline permit via executive action on his first day in office.

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Joe Biden to Cancel Keystone XL Pipeline Permit on Day One

President-elect Joe Biden plans to cancel the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in office, according to several news sources.

The decision delighted advocates of the so-called “Green New Deal,” but will disappoint Biden’s own political allies in the trade union movement, who had backed the pipeline for the thousands of jobs it would create.

As Breitbart News reported last year:

The Keystone XL pipeline would run from Canada’s oil sands in Alberta across the border and into Nebraska. From there, the oil would be pumped through existing pipelines to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. The project passed environmental reviews under the Obama administration, but was stalled due to opposition from environmental groups concerned about climate. (Supporters of the pipeline noted the oil would be extracted, regardless: the alternative was export to China.)

President Donald Trump issued an executive order on his third full day in office effectively giving the green light to Keystone XL, inviting it to re-apply for permits and instructing federal agencies to move the project along rapidly.

Biden, who is the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, promised in May that he would stop the Keystone XL pipeline “for good” if he was elected president.

Four labor unions — the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the International Union of Operating Engineers, the Laborers International Union of North America (LiUNA), and the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters — reached a project labor agreement (PLA) last August with TC Energy, the Canadian company responsible for the pipeline.

But it may all be to no avail, as Politico reported Sunday evening:

President-elect Joe Biden will rescind the cross-border permit for TC Energy’s Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in office, three sources confirm to POLITICO.

The move is billed as one of Biden’s Day One climate change actions, according to a presentation circulating among Washington trade groups and lobbyists, a portion of which was seen by POLITICO. The decision was not included in incoming chief of staff Ron Klain’s Saturday memo outlining Biden’s planned executive actions during the first days of his presidency.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a co-sponsor of the “Green New Deal,” welcomed the news of Keystone XL’s cancelation:

Sanders did not mention the unions, nor the workers on the pipeline, or the jobs that would be created in related industries.

Conservatives have defended the pipeline as environmentally sound, as well as helpful for America’s energy security. But liberals have targeted it as a symbol of the fossil fuel industry.

Biden also reportedly intends to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement upon taking office, though even climate experts admitted it did little to curb emissions. The U.S. has reduced emissions even while opting out of the Paris accord, and even while growing the economy — thanks in large part to the fracking industry, which has assisted in moving the U.S. from coal to natural gas as a cleaner-burning energy source.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His newest e-book is How Not to Be a Sh!thole Country: Lessons from South Africa. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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Pennsylvania: Images of the Keystone State

Pennsylvania is the fifth-most-populous state in the U.S., home to nearly 13 million residents. From Lake Erie, through the Ridge and Valley region, across Pennsylvania Dutch Country, to the city of Philadelphia, here are a few glimpses of the landscape of Pennsylvania, and some of the wildlife and people calling it home.

This photo story is part of Fifty, a collection of images from each of the United States.

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There’s a path for Biden to approve Keystone XL, but some Canadians aren’t going to like it

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The reason that Keystone XL has a chance is that Biden is a throwback. He came of age when horse trading in the Senate was the norm, not something you did to avoid a crisis. The closest observers of the president-elect say he remains an old-school senator at heart, suggesting he’d be willing to lose some points if the eventual payoff is worth the pain of a few difficult news cycles.

“There are going to be a lot of days when Democrats are going to be saying, `What the hell did Joe Biden just give away,’ and there will be days when they say, `Huh, I didn’t think (the White House) could get that,’” Evan Osnos, author of a new biography of Biden,said recently on The Ezra Klein Show, a podcast on U.S. politics and public policy.

Osnos, a writer at The New Yorker magazine, observed that Biden’s negotiating style is to consider what the other side needs to get to where he himself wants to go.

Where does Biden want to go? Histransition website lists four priorities: COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equality and climate change. There is no mention of Keystone, but the transition team doessay this: “Biden knows how to stand with America’s allies, stand up to adversaries, and level with any world leader about what must be done. He will not only recommit the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change — he will go much further than that. He is working to lead an effort to get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets.”

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