The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Government Uncertainty Hinders World-Class Infrastructure

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted October 5, 2016

Our country has significant infrastructure needs. Here, the focus is on energy, but America’s roads, bridges, airports, ports and more all need attention, too. All of them – energy and otherwise – also need government approval processes that are fair and efficient so that important infrastructure projects can be built in a timely manner.

Unfortunately, these principles – as well as the rule of law – are at risk with the Obama administration’s move to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in South Dakota. The uncertainty the administration injected into the situation is wreaking havoc with workers on a project that’s already 60 percent complete. And it could have a chilling effect on all kinds of infrastructure projects in the future.

Workers’ unions and groups representing contractors, suppliers, equipment distributors and others are weighing in with a letter to President Obama, who throughout his presidency has advocated for more infrastructure construction. The letter, signed by 18 organizations, cited the president’s past support for 21st-century infrastructure and called the Dakota Access intervention “unprecedented.” From the letter:

Mr. President, this is not how our country should operate. The Dakota Access Pipeline has undergone a rigorous and well established environmental and regulatory review.  It has already invested $2.5 billion in construction capital, employing almost ten thousand highly skilled, highly paid workers.  To arbitrarily preempt that process, as these agencies have done, is not only grossly unfair, it will have a chilling impact on the willingness of developers in all fields to commit time and capital to the construction of the infrastructure our nation so vitally needs.  

The above follows another letter to the president this week from five major labor unions – the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the International Union of Operating Engineers and the United Association – urging him to let the Dakota Access Pipeline proceed “without delay.”


The letter points out the project was lawfully permitted, reviewed more than two years by officials in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois (states crossed by the pipeline) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The letter notes that the Corps of Engineers held 389 meetings with 55 tribes about the project, and that opponents have not produced evidence that sites of cultural and historic significance would be harmed by construction. From the letter:

The precedent created by this extraordinary intervention following the conclusion of the regulatory process is chilling for future investment in necessary U.S. infrastructure – from highways and bridges to ports and factories. Our members make careers out of jobs created by projects like Dakota Access, and our jobs depend on the investments of conscientious employers. If companies like Energy Transfer Partners cannot trust that the regulatory process outlined in federal law will be upheld, who will continue to invest in America? The family sustaining jobs and benefits that this project provides are in jeopardy.

Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, representing 3 million craft professionals in the U.S. and Canada, sounded general alarm about infrastructure permitting and construction during a recent speech at the Center for American Progress (McGarvey’s remarks start about three hours into this event video).

McGarvey called infrastructure construction a key driver of economic growth, tying the timely and definitive approval of pipeline and other energy projects to the livelihoods of roughly half his union’s members. McGarvey:

“We should not … try to fashion together a national infrastructure/energy policy one project at a time … We have a saying in the building trades, and it goes like this: All we do is build, build is all we do. … We need certainty and a national plan when it comes to the entire range of our national infrastructure. We need a permitting process that not only ensures rigorous examination and study, but also a definitive end. Project sponsors, contractors and our members cannot be held in limbo indefinitely.”

McGarvey specifically addressed the situation with the Dakota Access Pipeline:

“What our members are experiencing in the heartland of America after an override of a federal court decision that upheld a rigorous, comprehensive, inclusive permitting process simply adds further confusion and uncertainty for all future infrastructure projects, both energy and non-energy related. It’s not just the Dakota Access Pipeline that should be a concern for all of us …”

McGarvey said infrastructure should have bipartisan support for the good of our economy and for the good of individual Americans:

“There are many things that we as a nation can and should agree upon. And primary among them, in our view, are the vast socio-economic opportunities that can be created and realized through infrastructure investments, provided that they are structured in a thoughtful, proper manner. Doing so will let us achieve world-class infrastructure and a world-class workforce to boot.”

Again, basic fairness, the integrity of official review processes and upholding the rule of law are at stake in the Dakota Access Pipeline case. Moving the goalposts for official review – after a project is more than halfway built – is unfair, undermines due process and runs counter to the rule of law. And, as McGarvey and others assert, the impacts could be wide and damaging to our country in terms of infrastructure and the economic benefits that derive from it.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.