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Labor's view: Sandpiper pipeline promises a bright future

A small group of judges is threatening to wipe away a once-in-a-generation economic opportunity for Minnesota.

In June, our state’s Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved the Sandpiper pipeline, which would move about 600,000 barrels of light crude oil from the Bakken shale field in North Dakota through Minnesota and on to a terminal in Wisconsin.

This was welcome news. This pipeline would create thousands of well-paying jobs, which are crucial to sustaining Minnesota’s middle class.

However, in September, the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned that ruling on technical grounds, specifically claiming that the commission had not collected a specific official document called an “Environmental Impact Statement.” Attorneys from Enbridge, the company behind Sandpiper, and state regulators both appealed the decision.

Construction on the 610-mile pipeline would create an estimated 1,500 local jobs. These positions would give our economy a much-needed boost. Last year, it grew by a mere 1.4 percent — almost a full percentage point behind the national average.

What’s more, these jobs would provide workers with a path to middle class. Before beginning work on the pipeline, laborers would gain specialized skills through classroom instruction and hands-on professional training. With this training, workers quickly become maintenance pipeliners, production operators and industrial mechanics. These positions pay anywhere from $47,000 to $59,000 a year. Those are good, middle-class wages that support families and put more money back into local economies.

And this specialized instruction doesn’t just guarantee pipeline safety; it gives workers a set of skills invaluable for future construction jobs in their careers.

On top of that, state businesses along the pipeline route — from restaurants and shops to suppliers of equipment and materials — will see a boost in revenue. This increased economic activity will, in turn, generate even more jobs.

Given how much the areas surrounding Sandpiper stand to gain, it’s hardly surprising that local support is strong. Indeed, 95 percent of private landowners along the pipeline’s route have signed off on the project.

Some folks remain skeptical, of course, so that’s why four trade organizations have set up “technology expos” in communities close to existing and proposed pipelines. These hands-on events showcase how pipelines are built, why they’re safe and the type of skilled union worker needed to construct them. They offer the public a chance to ask questions — and to understand these projects’ value.

Making matters worse, the Public Utilities Commission has indicated it may prohibit Sandpiper from running along its primary route and force it to take an alternative southern path. Such a ruling also would compromise Minnesota’s economy.

According to Sandpiper Project Manager Paul Eberth, the pipeline’s approval from shippers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was contingent on its local benefits — which would be greatly lessened if Sandpiper bypassed its primary local targets. Crucial pro-

pipeline groups may choose to nix the proposal if their promised gains are diminished. And that would threaten another economic opportunity for Minnesotans.

Enbridge also has proposed replacing about 600 miles of Line 3, a pipeline that stretches through Minnesota on its way from Alberta to Wisconsin. That project could create another 1,500 local jobs — but only if Enbridge builds Sandpiper along its preferred route.

Fortunately, several prominent Minnesota politicians, including House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, have come out against the Sandpiper court ruling. The courts should let Enbridge commence construction. Failure to do so would undermine Sandpiper’s economic promise, robbing hard-working Minnesotans of jobs.

Sean McGarvey of Maryland is president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, which is based in Washington, D.C. (bctd.org).

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