America’s ban on crude oil exports should stay in place, IBEW International President Lonnie R. Stephenson urged members of Congress in an Oct. 8 letter.
Lifting the export ban, Stephenson warned, would send U.S. refining jobs overseas and could raise gasoline prices for consumers.
|Gary and Hammond, Ind., Local 697 members helped build a massive BP refinery on the shores of Lake Michigan in 2012, exactly the sort of work that could disappear if Congress lifts the crude oil export restrictions.
A day earlier, the White House joined the chorus opposing the measure, threatening to veto any legislation that did away with the decades-long ban.
Despite warnings from Stephenson, Obama and others, including the AFL-CIO, the Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, the U.S. House passed a bill to repeal the ban on Oct. 9 with the support of nearly every Republican and 26 Democrats.
The vote, however, fell well short of the 290 votes that would be required to override the president’s veto, so it is unclear if the measure will even be taken up in the Senate. Even then, lifting the ban would require the support of 60 Senators to even reach a vote, which looks increasingly unlikely.
For the IBEW, keeping the export ban in place was easy to support. According to a National Maintenance Agreements Policy Committee study, IBEW electricians worked an average of more than 2 million hours a year between 2012 and 2014 on refinery projects, and those numbers are likely a low estimate.
“This refinery work is important to us across the Gulf Coast and Midwest,” said Jimmy Burk, business manager of Beaumont, Texas, Local 479.
And it’s not just the construction and maintenance work on the refineries themselves that could take a hit. An assault on American refining by lifting the ban, Burk said, could start a chain reaction that would be destructive to the rest of the petrochemical industry and to the communities around the impacted refineries.
“It’s just not a risk we’re willing to take for these oil companies to pocket a few extra bucks,” said Bruce Burton, an international representative in the Political and Legislative Affairs department.
Members of Congress who voted against the measure were quick to chastise their colleagues as well. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), called the vote “an unconscionable giveaway to big oil.” Other opponents estimated the profit-boost to oil companies at nearly $30 billion over the next 10 years.
“It’s a question of who we really care about,” Stephenson said. “Is it the American workers and consumers, or is it big oil executives? We’re grateful for the support of the White House and the members of the House who voted against lifting this ban, and we urge their colleagues in the Senate to do the same.”