Yes, it is rare when politicians, corporations, and union leaders see eye to eye on key economical and environmental issues, but they certainly do now, at least in The Great Lakes State.
That is where Michigan unions, contractors, investors, petroleum industry groups and elected officials agree that a new energy policy is a must-have. Otherwise, they warn, an energy crisis may be looming.
While you are at it, increase investment in energy infrastructure, too, they say.
“We have to stop relying on nations for energy who is hostile to the US,” Terry O’Sullivan the general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, tells Industry Today. “We have energy here. We have to use it. We have to produce it.”
O’Sullivan, whose organization has a half-million members, was one of the 300-something attendees who recently attended what O’Sullivan claimed as a “landmark gathering” of sorts in Livonia, Mich.
The gathering, nicknamed “Building Michigan’s Energy Future: How a Smart Energy Policy Will Create Jobs and Power Michigan’s Economy,” highlighted how a new American energy renaissance built solely on abundant, affordable energy can:
- Spark economic growth;
- Increase energy independence;
- Revitalize unions;
- Create thousands of badly needed good jobs in the Great Lakes region and across the country.
O’Sullivan, who is an outspoken advocate for sound transportation policy on Capitol Hill, said the event was “symbolic of a new promising partnership” between government, union and industrial leaders who do not frequently work in harmony.
“Particularly coming from Washington, D.C., with all of the partisanship there, it was refreshing and encouraging to see everybody come together and talk about energy independence and how we can produce abundant and affordable energy,” he says. “As the economic recovery continues, we believe the energy sector can help solidify growth and even help revitalize the American labor movement.”
John Hofmeister, former President of Shell Oil Company and founder of Citizens for Affordable Energy, concurs. He, like O’Sullivan and Michigan Gov. Rick Synder, among others, also attended the event.
“Twenty-first century prosperity is on the horizon if we have energy investment that leads to the revamping of our entire energy infrastructure,” he says. “We must make energy more affordable and have more supply than we have demand.”
What would happen if Americans continued to rest on their laurels and did not take the necessary steps to ignite greater investment in energy?
It would not be pretty, O’Sullivan says.
“In an energy crisis, the costs for energy skyrockets,” he warns. “We would have to rely more and more on hostile nations. There, we believe it affects national security. It affects our energy security.”
In addition, it affects the American, he says, economy.
“We would have to keep going outside the confines of the United States to get energy,” he says. “It also affects job creation, which is sorely needed.”
Take, for instance, the construction industry, where O’Sullivan says a major lack of employment still weighs heavily.
“We have over a 14 percent unemployment rate and over a million construction workers out of work,” he details. “To me it is about energy independence. It is about finding affordable and abundant energy sources. It is about creating jobs, good jobs, and green jobs.”
Could an energy crisis really materialize? Yes, he says, explaining how the American Society of Civil Engineers gives our nation’s energy infrastructure a D+ grade, noting that much of our existing pipelines and electoral grid dates to the 1880s and that energy demand will greatly outstrip supply “in the near future” if more energy is not produced.
STEPS TO TAKE
Because of an increasing reliance on energy efficiency and renewable energies, coupled with a technology revolution in the fields of natural gas and domestic oil, the US is on track to surpass Saudi Arabia in oil production, O’Sullivan says. By 2030, the US could be become entirely energy independent.
In just the next seven years, he adds, oil and gas recovered through hydraulic fracturing holds the promise of $305 million in investment and 3.5 million jobs.
To accomplish this, O’Sullivan very bluntly calls for constructing the long-awaited Keystone XL pipeline and developing a national energy policy that would create unionized jobs and generate more affordable power. Likewise, a domestic boost in natural gas and renewable energy would be greatly appreciated.
O’Sullivan remains very adamant on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, a 1,700-mile project that would reportedly pump oil from Canada to the southern half of the US. The project has not yet broken ground, thanks largely to a number of environmental groups who oppose its creation.
That is very unfortunate, O’Sullivan says, explaining that the scrutinized pipeline would be an economic Band-Aid to the nation.
“Pipelines are big business for our country. Oil and gas are primary drivers of energy in the United States,” he says. “The Keystone XL pipeline would be a huge job creator. We also see it as a tool toward energy independence. It will be the safest pipeline ever built in the history of our country.”
He simply adds, “We see it as a no-brainer.”
Synder’s administration, meanwhile, is also a strong advocate for utilizing natural gas supplies. Valerie Brader, Synder’s Senior Policy Advisor, says that Michigan is on track to reach its mandated goal of producing 10 percent of its energy from renewables – mostly from wind – and has long used hydraulic fracturing to recover natural gas and oil.
“I am hopeful that reliability, affordability, and environmental protection will be the guideposts of that national roadmap, as they will be for our state,” she says.
Despite an expected decrease in the oil share, job growth in oil and gas extraction is expected to increase, officials say. Between 2009 and 2011, midstream oil and gas pipeline construction jobs increased by 8 percent and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects growth of 14.6 percent through 2020.
However, can the better part of that trend continue?
O’Sullivan warns that over-regulation and extreme environmentalism could kill any resemblance of an energy renaissance, including the massive amounts of jobs and economic growth that stem directly from it. He says the Keystone XL pipeline is an example of both culprits.
“It’s good for workers, it’s good for business, it’s good for the economy and it’s good for America, yet because of politics the pipeline has been put on hold,” he says, noting the union is a leader in backing comprehensive climate change legislation and worker training in all energy fields, including renewables.
“Extremist elements who are trying to block all domestic oil and natural gas production live in a world where the laws of reason, of logic and of common sense don’t apply,” O’Sullivan continues. “Currently about 10 percent of our energy is from renewables and that share will and should grow. But there is no scenario, no possibility in which it grows fast enough to replace oil and gas in the short term.”
In addition, let O’Sullivan be clear: “We believe we need to have regulation,” he says. “But let’s not overregulate or under-regulate.”
Instead, he says, streamline the process in such a way that “we are being environmentally safe and sound” while getting projects and initiatives completed in a reasonable timeframe.
“We are not saying that it should be like the Wild, Wild West and that there should be no regulations whatsoever,” he says in conclusion. “We just believe that, at this point in time, the excessive amount of regulation, and that certain regulations themselves, are getting away of our economic growth, our national security, and, in some cases, preventing us from growing in the energy sector and fixing our crumbling infrastructure.”
Business, union, and governmental leaders in Michigan see the writing on the wall, O’Sullivan says, and he hopes discussion expands nationally.
“We look forward to having similar discussion with other states in the very near future,” he says. “We know many others feel the same way we do about these issues.”