O'Sullivan: Time for regulators to unlock opportunities waiting in pipeline project

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O'Sullivan: Time for regulators to unlock opportunities waiting in pipeline project

The Roanoke Times

With the latest suspension of work on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, it’s time for review: the energy infrastructure sector, specifically natural gas, has created both a pathway to middle class jobs for tens of thousands of Americans, as well as a pathway to gradually reaching cleaner energy that is reliable and meets our nation’s demand. The ACP does just that.

Over the last year, job fairs have sprouted up across the pipeline’s route, and apprenticeship programs are busy training workers the skills needed to build pipeline projects, making sure they are built safely and securely.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is one of the biggest energy construction projects this region has seen in decades. And it’s these kinds of energy infrastructure projects that will power our country, both literally and economically. Last year, The Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) members worked approximately 11.3 million hours on pipeline projects alone.

At an event in Fishersville, Virginia, last spring, one labor veteran told the local paper that working on pipelines has given him “a good life” that helped him provide for his family. Atlantic Coast Pipeline is projected to support 17,000 jobs and generate $2.7 billion in economic activity during the construction phase. The longer-term benefits will be even greater.

Countless communities, throughout the pipeline’s route, will benefit directly from the project. Through union apprenticeship training programs, local workers will gain training and skills that prepare them to work on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and go on to have careers in construction that can support families, pay the mortgage, and put children through college. These training programs also help to ensure these projects are built on time and on budget without jeopardizing the safety of the workers, or the integrity of the pipeline and the environment.

The team behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline signed a deal with the four primary pipeline construction and building trade unions last year to ensure skilled workers will play a leading role in constructing the 600-mile pipeline. Demand is high for these jobs; LIUNA alone has over 15,000 applicants hoping to secure work on this project.

These four trade unions tasked with recruiting this workforce have pledged that at least 25 percent of these new hires will be first-time union members from the communities where the pipeline will be built. LIUNA has partnered with community colleges throughout Virginia and North Carolina to train workers for jobs on the pipeline free of charge.

It was unfortunate to hear that due to delays in the permitting process, LIUNA members were unable to go to work putting their skills to the task. But now that Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality has approved a major protection plan for the pipeline, LIUNA has begun to recruit, screen, and train its members and graduates from the first class will be able to earn a middle-class wage with good benefits just in time for the holidays.

Many LIUNA members that will go to work on ACP are products of the “Helmets to Hardhats” program. This is a union-funded program that transitions retired military service men and women into the construction industry, promising a second career to our region’s veterans whose service is proof of their drive, training and determination to support our communities. This project represents a major opportunity for us to give back to these veterans by equipping them with the skills to thrive in a new field.

Big infrastructure projects have a major multiplier effect on the local economies. Just as the Hoover Dam, Golden Gate Bridge and other Depression-era projects trained a generation of workers to build American cities in the 1950s and 60s, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and other major infrastructure projects will train a new generation of workers to continue building out our nation’s infrastructure, from roads, bridges, pipelines, and beyond.

Unlike other major infrastructure projects that require massive public funding, the bulk of ACP will be private. The pipeline has already cleared a long list of regulatory hurdles at the local, state and federal level, following an extensive three-year environmental review and countless agreements with local landowners to find the optimal, least intrusive route. But we need to settle the gridlock over remaining regulatory actions, including rights-of-way across the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Trail, so union members can transition from training to building.

For many working class men and women within the construction industry, Atlantic Coast and projects like are not just pipelines, they are lifelines.

Read the full article and more in The Roanoke Times.