The AFL-CIO supports a comprehensive energy policy focused on investing in our nation’s future, creating jobs and addressing the threat of climate change. It is clear that for the foreseeable future our nation will continue to use a wide range of energy sources—including both traditional sources like coal, oil and natural gas, and newer sources like wind, solar and nuclear. Any serious effort to tackle climate change must begin with ensuring we use a range of tools, including policy incentives and technology, to make our economy more energy efficient and by doing so to minimize greenhouse gas emissions from all of these sources.
A key part of this challenge relates to the systems by which we transport energy. These systems—our transmission lines and pipelines, freight rail and waterways—are vital parts of our nation’s infrastructure. But like our roads and bridges, they have been allowed to decay, to become outmoded and to be outpaced by demand. As new sources of energy come on line—from wind to natural gas to new oil fields—new, properly designed and safe infrastructure must be built to transport that energy to market. In particular, pipelines—when properly designed, manufactured, installed and maintained by skilled workers—are a low carbon emissions method of transporting oil and natural gas. In addition, pipelines lower the cost of the fuel they carry compared with other forms of transportation, making that fuel more economically attractive. And pipelines create jobs—in the manufacture of the pipe, the laying of the pipe, the maintaining of the pipe and the economic activity that springs up in the wake of reliable supplies of energy and chemical feedstocks.
However, when our energy infrastructure is allowed to decay, it becomes a threat—a public safety threat as shown by natural gas explosions in California and Kansas City, an environmental threat both in terms of toxic leaks and the release of methane and other powerful agents of global warming, and an economic threat as the efficiency of our domestic energy production is diminished. In Massachusetts alone, pipeline leakage is estimated to cost natural gas ratepayers $40 million per year. As a result of allowing our pipeline infrastructure to decay, leaks from pipelines have become a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, and a totally preventable one.
The AFL-CIO supports the expansion of our pipeline infrastructure and a much more aggressive approach to the repair of our more than 2.5 million miles of existing pipelines. Repair and buildout of the natural gas pipeline system alone has been estimated by the INGAA Foundation as likely to create, on average, 125,000 jobs a year between now and 2035.
The AFL-CIO supports measures that ensure pipeline and other energy infrastructure development creates good jobs and builds America’s industrial base—project labor agreements, Buy Union and Buy America provisions, and robust training requirements for both installers and repairers of pipelines.
There are immediate steps that could be taken by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration under the newly enacted Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011, to accelerate repairing our nation’s energy infrastructure. These steps should be an area in which business, labor and the environmental community can unite around improvements to our nation’s energy infrastructure that make business more efficient, create good, skilled jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
More broadly, the AFL-CIO and the global labor movement, in looking at the challenge of energy policy in a warming world, have embraced the notion of just transition. As the mix of energy sources used in the world economy changes, workers in the energy and industrial sectors are at risk of bearing the full cost of that change. Without a comprehensive, legislative approach to energy and jobs, there is no way to make the necessary investments in new energy technologies that can create new good jobs, to provide a just transition for workers and their communities that will be harmed due to changing energy sources and technologies, or to make the investments needed to power our nation’s long-term economic competitiveness.
For these reasons the United States desperately needs a comprehensive jobs and energy policy—a policy that only can be put into place by legislation. Our nation’s need for a comprehensive, job-creating energy policy only has grown over time. The AFL-CIO calls on President Obama and Congress to move forward with such an effort in 2013.
Finally, in view of the seriousness of these issues for the long-term competitiveness of the United States, for our ability to create jobs and for the environmental sustainability of our society, the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO is establishing an Energy Committee to focus our work on energy, jobs and the environment, and to develop deeper expertise and leadership on energy and environmental issues and their broader implications for working people.