with Alexandra Ellerbeck

The United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters, the nation’s pipe-fitting and plumbing union, is backing Joe Biden for president.

Its chief, Mark McManus, acknowledged that his union, which has 359,000 members in the United States and Canada, doesn’t see eye to eye with Biden on every issue — in particular, on the Keystone XL pipeline.

But he said the presumptive Democratic nominee is a longtime labor ally who wants to invest millions of dollars in water infrastructure projects that would employ its members.“Looking at the whole gamut of what the United Association does, the many tentacles that we have, the many issues in front of us for the next four years, we strongly endorsed” Biden, McManus said in an interview.

The endorsement further cements Biden’s support from labor groups, which he has heavily courted.

In a statement, Biden said he was “deeply honored” to get the endorsement.

“I promise you this: if I’m elected, workers and unions will have the strongest friend they have ever had in the White House,” he added.

The union, which also represents plumbers, sprinkler fitters, welders and service technicians, is encouraged by Biden’s call to replace lead pipes and upgrade outdated water treatment plants to stop drinking water pollution as part of his $2 trillion climate plan.

Unlike some other Democrats whom Biden beat in the primary, he supports investing in both the next generation of nuclear reactors and systems to capture and store carbon dioxide before it reaches the atmosphere — both nascent technologies with the potential to employ UA workers.

But the pipefitters disagrees with Biden when it comes to Keystone XL.

In May, Biden’s campaign announced that as president, he would rescind permits issued by President Trump authorizing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. One of Trump’s first acts in office in 2017 was to revive both the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, saying the jobs they would create would be a boost to the economy.

Biden’s old boss, President Barack Obama, blocked completion of the pipeline at the behest of environmentalists concerned that the crude-oil conduit connecting Canada’s tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries would exacerbate dependence on polluting fossil fuels.

McManus said “the UA absolutely still supports” the pipeline. 

But even if Trump wins reelection, Keystone XL and other major oil pipeline projects may still struggle to move forward. This year, the Keystone XL and Dakota Access conduits faced a round of legal defeats as environmental activists seek to delay the projects in the courts.

The union chief said that Trump was mostly talk when it came to infrastructure spending that could employ its members.

“Donald Trump said that he was going to have the biggest, hugest infrastructure package America has ever seen,” McManus said. “We’ve waited four years. We’ve come up with zero, quite frankly.”

Russ Breckenridge, the union’s director of legislative and political affairs, said members were also discouraged by efforts by Trump’s Labor Department to “severely undermine and weaken union apprenticeship programs.”

Close to 80,000 active UA members — or about a quarter of the union’s U.S. membership — are based in eight battleground states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The union backed Obama in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016.

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Power plays

Climate change gets little attention during prime time on the opening day of the Democratic National Convention.

During the primary campaign, Biden called climate change the "top issue." But on the first day of the convention to nominate him, it was largely overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic and demands for racial justice in policing.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) said Americans are confronting the "enormous threat to our planet of climate change" in a speech otherwise largely accusing Trump of leading the U.S. down towards authoritarianism. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama only briefly alluded to international efforts to combat climate change while her husband was president. 

And Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who competed for the Democratic nomination on a platform focused on climate change, only had a few lines in a video montage showing most of this year's primary candidates. Earlier in the day he spoke at a forum on environmental policy where he praised Biden's new climate change plan, the Spokesman-Review reported.

The Trump administration finalizes oil drilling plan for Arctic wildlife refuge.

The White House announced Monday a plan to auction off the rights to drill for oil and gas in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, long the subject of dispute between conservative lawmakers and conservationists. 

“The move will allow leasing on the 1.6 million-acre coastal plain, part of a nearly pristine wilderness that is home to migrating caribou and waterfowl as well as polar bears and foxes that live there year-round,” my colleague Juliet Eilperin writes. “It marks a major step toward reviving fossil fuel development in an area that has been untouched for three decades.”

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told reporters the policy was “carefully tailored” and in line with provisions in the 2017 budget bill that laid the groundwork for oil and gas leasing on the refuge.  

But the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, estimated that oil and gas production in the refuge could release more than 4.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide over its lifetime.

Under the plan, the first auction would be held in December 2021, although Bernhardt suggested it could be even earlier. Environmental groups and some Alaska Natives have said they plan to bring legal challenges. And Biden has promised to permanently protect the refuge.

Salmon find an unlikely ally in Tucker Carlson.

In a segment that aired Friday, the Fox News prime-time host joined a growing group of right-wing voices often aligned with Trump who have raised concerns over the environmental impact of the Pebble Mine project in a sensitive fishing area in Alaska.

“Interestingly, in most environmental controversies, there is a clean partisan split: Republicans are on one side, Democrats are on the other. But this is not so clear,” Carlson said.

Trump administration officials determined last month that the proposed gold and copper mine would not cause prohibitive environmental problems, reversing an Obama administration decision, despite warnings by experts that the project could jeopardize the regions fisheries, in which many of the worlds sockeye salmon are spawned.

Now some conservatives — including the presidents son, Donald Trump Jr., and Nick Ayers, Vice President Pences former top staffer — have urged Trump to consider withholding his greenlight for the mine, which if built would be the largest on the continent.

Conservative advocates for outdoor sports such as fishing still sometimes find common ground with progressive environmentalists, even while sharply diverging on fundamental issues such as climate change.

California finalized a deal with automakers on lower vehicle emissions 

The California Air Resources Board, the states clean-air regulator, struck a deal with several carmakers to set stricter emissions standards.

In reaching its agreement with Ford, Volkswagen, Honda and BMW, the state is “defying the Trump administration’s push for weaker curbs on tailpipe pollution,” Reuters reports.

The agreements between the state and carmakers started out as voluntary arrangements in July 2019, after the Trump administration announced a plan to rollback emissions standards.  

In March, the Trump administration finalized its rollback, requiring automakers to increase vehicle efficiency by 1.5 percent each year. It was a sharp decrease from the 5 percent annual improvement called for in the discarded Obama administration rules. 

“The 50-page California agreements, which extend through 2026, are less onerous than the standards finalized by the Obama administration but tougher than the Trump administration standards,” Reuters reports. “The automakers have also agreed to electric vehicle commitments.” 


Millions of Californians brace for more blackouts amid a heat wave.

California is facing its worst power shortage in decades, with rolling power outages throughout the weekend predicted to continue until at least Wednesday. 

The crisis has exposed vulnerabilities in the state’s power grid, which is heavily reliant on renewable energy.

“We have a much more risky supply of energy now because the sun doesn’t always shine when we want and the wind doesn’t always blow when we want,” Frank Wolak, an economics professor at Stanford University who studies energy markets, told the Mercury News.

Demand for air conditioning spikes in the early evening as people are coming home from work. It’s also when the sun is setting, reducing the supply of solar energy. Wind energy has also “slumped” with the heat, the newspaper reports.