House of Representatives

Union warns House Democrats of retaliation for opposing Keystone XL

The Keystone Oil Pipeline is pictured under construction in North Dakota.

The Keystone Oil Pipeline is pictured under construction in North Dakota.  (Reuters)

One of the nation's leading building trades unions is stepping up pressure on House Democrats who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, calling on union members in 27 congressional districts to punish their representative in the midterm election.

A letter distributed by the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) to the 27 districts calls for union members to make sure their representative "feels the power and the fury of LIUNA this November," The Hill reported.

"Your member of Congress is trying to destroy job opportunities for our LIUNA brothers and sisters," read the letter signed by Terry O'Sullivan, the general president of LIUNA, and obtained by The Hill on Friday. 

"For every action, there is a reaction, and our reaction to this frontal assault on our way of life needs to be loud and clear. If you do not stand with us, we sure as hell will not stand with you," O'Sullivan wrote, citing the jobs Keystone would create.

The House members being targeted by the union include Reps. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J.; Anna Eshoo, D-Calif.; Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz.; and Tim Ryan, D-Ohio. All of the representatives signed a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry in March urging him to reject the pipeline.

The letter to union members asks them to remember that "unemployed construction workers desperately need the work" generated by Keystone XL, calling it a "lifeline" for thousands of members, according to The Hill. 

LIUNA said it supports reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but not at the cost of jobs, according to the report. 

"The livelihoods of LIUNA members are too important for our union to continue ignoring the actions of supposed ‘friends’ who stand in the way of jobs that enable our proud members to provide for themselves and their families," read a letter to Rep. Jan Schakowksy, D-Ill.

The Republican-controlled House has voted several times to approve the $5.4 billion pipeline, which has support from a majority of senators. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., blocked a vote last week on a Republican proposal that would have allowed construction of the pipeline and made numerous changes in the nation's health care law. GOP lawmakers say all of the proposals would help create jobs.

Eleven Senate Democrats, including six who face contested races this year, sent a letter to President Obama on Thursday, urging him to approve Keystone by the end of May.

The five-year review of the Canada-to-Texas pipeline has been "exhaustive in its time, breadth and scope" and has taken longer than reasonably justified, the senators wrote to the president. 

Approval of the pipeline is needed to ensure pipeline operator TransCanada does not miss another construction season, the senators' letter said.

Six of the Democrats who signed the letter face challenges this year: Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, John Walsh of Montana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Warner of Virginia.

The Keystone XL pipeline has emerged as an election-year dilemma for Democrats.

Wealthy party donors are funding candidates who oppose the project — a high-profile symbol of the political debate over climate change. But some of the party's most vulnerable incumbents are pipeline boosters, including the six who signed the letter Thursday.

Several former Obama administration officials, including ex-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and former national security adviser James Jones, have called on Obama to approve the pipeline. Jones told Congress last month that approval would send Russian President Vladimir Putin a message that "international bullies" can't use energy security as a weapon.

Environmental groups and some top Democratic donors oppose the pipeline, saying it would carry "dirty oil" that contributes to global warming. They also worry about possible spills. 

Tom Steyer, a billionaire environmentalist, has vowed to spend $100 million —$50 million of his own money and $50 million from other donors — to make climate change a top-tier issue in the 2014 elections. Opposition to Keystone XL is a significant part of that effort.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that the review of the pipeline "needs to run its appropriate course without interference from the White House or Congress." 

The State Department is reviewing the project "and when there's a decision to be announced, it will be announced," Carney said. The State Department has authority over the project because it crosses a U.S. border.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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