U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) — in a Dec. 7 op-ed in the Medford Mail-Tribune — came out against the Jordan Cove project, a proposed liquid natural gas (LNG) pipeline and export terminal in Coos Bay.
North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), a 14-union federation based in Washington, DC, issued a strongly worded response Dec. 13, saying that Merkley, by publicly opposing Jordan Cove, “demonstrated a callous lack of concern for the economic prospects of Oregon’s working families.”
“The actions taken by Senator Merkley is a stunning reversal and the latest example of elected officials abandoning working class voters who have repeatedly been disappointed by political elites,” NABTU said in the statement.
Building trades unions have been supporting the Jordan Cove project because it would be union-built under a project labor agreement. The $8 billion project would mean the equivalent of about four years of employment for 2,100 construction workers. It would also result in 200 permanent jobs, and $60 million in annual payments to Coos, Douglas, Jackson and Klamath counties.
Merkley was previously supportive of Jordan Cove, and said so when the Building Trades endorsed his 2014 re-election campaign. But in the op-ed, Merkley said the project — and the world — have changed since 2012, when Jordan Cove first announced its plans.
“It is still true that the project would create hundreds of good-paying construction jobs, strengthen union pension funds and train apprentices,” Merkley wrote. “But it is no longer true that the LNG shipped to Asia would reduce pollution. Since 2012 we have learned more about natural gas escaping from fracking fluids and gas pipelines, which by many estimates makes it at least as carbon-polluting as coal.”
Let’s just say nerves are pretty raw right now. — Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council executive secretary Tim Frew
Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council executive secretary Tim Frew said his phone was burning up with calls from angry building trades union leaders after the op-ed appeared. But Merkley’s change of heart didn’t take Frew by surprise.
Not long after Merkley got back from attending an early November United Nations climate summit in Bonn, Germany, he called to let Frew know he was rethinking his position on the project.
“We were pretty disappointed,” Frew told the Labor Press.
In reaction to the op-ed, Frew sent a letter to the governor and all state legislators, reiterating the state building trades council’s support for Jordan Cove and asking that elected leaders support the project and allow it to proceed through the permitting and approval process. The project has support from Coos Bay – area state legislators from both parties.
Merkley’s change in position may result in the Building Trades not endorsing or contributing to his campaign in 2020, Frew said.
“It doesn’t mean we wouldn’t go to Jeff Merkley to ask him for something,” Frew said. “But let’s just say nerves are pretty raw right now.”
Merkley has been regarded as a true-blue pro-union Democrat and close friend of labor. He’s an outspoken opponent of job-killing NAFTA-style trade agreements and a strong advocate of federal spending on infrastructure and renewable energy.
No other member of Oregon’s Congressional delegation has opposed Jordan Cove, and Merkley doesn’t actually have any say over the project. Thus far, the project has been held up by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which twice rejected Jordan Cove permit applications. Project backers are hoping a third application, now pending, will get a more favorable result in the Trump administration.