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Opinion: A Colorado labor leader reminds Biden that supporting workers and the environment is not an either-or choice

Biden’s decision to rescind the permit of the Keystone XL pipeline is the kind of over-correction that brings unintended consequences, especially for labor.

Organized labor, both here in Colorado and around the nation, is looking forward to working with the new Biden administration after four years of White House policy that was largely unfriendly to unions.

But as we enter this new era where workers rights are again respected, we need to be careful that in working to correct previous wrongs, our new leaders are not over-correcting and inadvertently harming the very workers that are relying on effectual leadership from Washington, D.C.

Jason Wardrip

The decision taken by President Biden shortly after assuming office to rescind the permit of the Keystone XL pipeline is an example of the kind of over correction that brings unintended consequences. It is not hyperbole to point out that the decision lamentably put thousands of jobs at risk overnight. 

The Keystone XL project supported workers in many fields, and thanks to the efforts of organized labor the project managers had agreed to utilize union labor for many of those tasks. 

The jobs that were eliminated by the president action were mostly in construction-related unionized trades that provided good wages, fair benefits, and stability for workers and their families. We are not talking about jobs only in the construction phase either, but others related to maintenance, reclamation, and other related fields. 

America needs to adequately address the threat of climate change, but we need to do so in a manner that does not do additional harm to workers. It is the American worker whose daily efforts will provide the solutions. 

American labor built this country and will continue to build it. American labor is ready and willing to do its part, and the costs of mitigation should not fall on our shoulders. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline project will not change the trajectory of climate change and will not have any meaningful positive impact on the environment. The simple fact is that the oil produced by our neighbors in Canada will find its way to market one way or the other; why not allow American workers to benefit? Why not move that product on union-built American infrastructure that we know will be safe and well-constructed?  

Part of the concern with President Biden’s Keystone XL decision is what it might mean for future related projects directly impacting Colorado – such as the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export terminal in Oregon and the Western Connector pipeline that would carry western Colorado natural gas to new markets in Japan and elsewhere on the Pacific Rim. This project could revitalize western Colorado’s economy and generate hundreds of good union construction jobs. 

But it’s not a stretch to believe that President Biden’s animosity towards the Keystone XL pipeline portends a broader hostility that could halt that project in its tracks.

America is facing a looming crisis in infrastructure and will need to invest heavily in the construction and repair of all the things that move people and material around the country and beyond our borders. We need to invest in roads, bridges, runways, and, yes, energy infrastructure, including oil and gas pipelines. 

Oil and gas remain vital to our economy and will continue to be so for more years to come as both products are needed to help fuel our transition to a cleaner energy economy. We will get there, but it won’t be overnight. In the meantime, we still need critical infrastructure to move energy safely. 

We know President Biden cares about workers and their families. He comes from a working-class background, from a town not too different from the ones many of our members were raised in. He grew up seeing the benefits of proud and organized labor, seeing what it can accomplish for both workers and the nation. 

Accordingly, he has dedicated much of his political life to supporting and strengthening the hard-fought for gains that American workers have earned over the years. 

We fully understand the challenges President Biden has inherited, and the pressure he is under to play catch-up with serious issues. Labor is there to support him in confronting these challenges. We simply ask that as he takes on this monumental task, he remembers us and where he came from. 

The Keystone XL pipeline is a critical part of American infrastructure, and we encourage the president to rethink this decision and to keep this in mind as he reviews the permits for this and other critical pieces of energy infrastructure, including the Jordan Cove LNG project. 


It is possible to both protect the environment and to keep American workers working, earning, and feeding their families as we move toward the future.Jason Wardrip is the business manager for the Colorado Building and Construction Trades Council, comprising 24 craft local unions that represent 14 national and international unions.


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