America is a little over two weeks into Biden's presidency, and it's already clear that climate control will be a prominent issue for his administration.
Biden has been very aggressive so far during his short time in office, signing over 40 executive actions to address issues ranging from climate change to immigration. In just his first day, Biden signed an executive order cancelling the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a move that's been faced with criticism from Republican lawmakers and those who'd been working on the project.
According to the Canadian company building the pipeline, TC Energy, nearly 1,000 laborers immediately lost their jobs as a result of Biden’s executive order.
Ron Berringer and Tyler Noel are two of those workers who were laid off.
Berringer, a 60-year-old union steward from Iowa, and his brothers had followed in the footsteps of their father, who also worked on pipelines.
"[I was told], 'Well, your dad was a steward for us and if you do half the job he did, you'll be doing us a great job.' And I knew right then that's what I wanted to do, is continue on and follow in his footsteps," Berringer told CBS News.
Berringer was working 60 hours a week on the Keystone pipeline in order to receive overtime pay, saying he was attracted to the good wages, benefits, and sense of community of pipeline work. He calls it his “bread and butter.”
But due to the pipeline's cancellation, Berringer can no longer replace his pick-up truck, that has 450,000 miles logged from work. He's also been forced to limit his financial support for his adult daughters. Before the pipeline’s cancellation, Berringer said he was approached nearly daily by friends and fellow union members interested in working on the project.
Tyler Noel is in the same situation. The 33-year-old from South Dakota has been working on pipelines for the last 13 years. He says that the friendships he’s made over the years are "the only thing I've got right now.”
Noel spent nearly six months in 2020 working on the Keystone pipeline.
"It's not just a job, it's like a lifestyle. The only people I talk to are family members and pipeliners," he said.
Noel was recently forced to refinance his truck, saying he knows workers who have even had to refinance their homes due to their job losses. The former Keystone worker is now concerned about future work, believing Biden may revoke other pipeline jobs. Noel says he needs more hours on the job in order to receive his pension.
"Anything that was coming in the next few months was supposed to be Keystone," he said. "If I hadn't saved my money through the years I would really be in a bind. But I'd say I've got at least three months, then I'm gonna have to do something.”
President Biden campaigned on the promise that he would create 10 million green energy jobs, singling out the Keystone pipeline as an obstacle to that goal.
"These jobs will create opportunities for young people and for older workers shifting to new professions," Biden said in his executive order halting the project, adding the move would "maximize the creation of accessible training opportunities and good jobs."
John Kerry, the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, previously suggested that laid off workers can simply “make the solar panels.”
Berringer and Noel are not confident that these goals will come to fruition. Berringer has previously worked on wind turbine installation, but found it less satisfying because it didn’t have the same overtime benefits as pipeline work.
"Every time I do jobs like that, I'm thinking, 'Why am I here? I should be on a pipeline,'" he said.
Noel said the idea of transitioning to green energy jobs is “just crazy," telling CBS News, "It's easy for welders. I'm a foreman. My trade is in labor. The money is so much better running a crew."
"I wouldn't be anywhere near that doing a wind turbine, which I've never done," he said. "If you do a task, do a job, for 13 years, you'd like to think in 13 years you'd be somewhat comfortable and then not have to worry about a job. What was the last 13 years for? The last 13 years of being out on the road, being away from family and for what? For me to be sitting here right now talking to you about this?"
(Cover Photo: Pax Ahimsa Gethen)