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New England’s Environmental Policies Are Driving Thousands Of Union Members Out Of Work


by Tim Pearce

Labor unions in the northeast U.S. are struggling to keep many of their members working because environmental policies and lawsuits are delaying energy projects already approved by the federal government.

Brent Booker, the secretary-treasurer of North America’s Building Trades Unions, appeared before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Thursday to testify in support of reforms to states’ authority to hold up infrastructure projects under the Clean Water Act.

Section 401 of the act allows states to challenge and delay federally approved projects if the project’s construction or use presents a danger to the state’s water resources or wetlands. The provision has delayed the construction of a series of natural gas pipelines to New York and throughout the northeast U.S., Booker testified.

“The region’s notoriously high energy prices have met a perfect storm in the form of inadequate natural gas infrastructure being coupled with the delay of Constitution and Northern Access Pipeline projects,” Booker said.

New Yorkers pay some of the highest energy prices in the U.S. A recent report found New York residents pay 44 percent more for energy than the national average. The state’s inability to ship in cheap natural gas, despite neighboring energy-rich Pennsylvania and the Marcellus shale formation, is exacerbating its energy woes.

Anti-fossil fuel environmental policies have stymied work for thousands of union members in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) District 2, which represents workers in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

“New England’s lack of investment in energy infrastructure, particularly natural gas infrastructure, continues to be a critical issue for our region,” IBEW District 2 international vice president Michael Monahan told the Senate in a letter. “The impacts of this lack of investment and resulting instability to our region’s energy market is particularly harmful to skilled tradespeople and thousands of working families in New England.”

The Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents roughly 9,500 workers in and around Rhode Island sent a similar letter in support of Congressional reforms to the Clean Water Act.

Anti-fossil fuel environmental policies have stymied energy infrastructure projects throughout New England but have not quelled the region’s need for natural gas. A bitter winter early in the year forced Boston to import fuel from Russia, a petrostate that uses its immense natural gas reserves to influence international politics.

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