Trump moves to ease barriers to natural gas pipeline construction

President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Putin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE on Wednesday signed two executive orders meant to eliminate hurdles to new and existing natural gas pipeline construction across the U.S.

“In a few moments I will sign two groundbreaking executive orders to continue the revival of the American energy industry, and will cut through destructive permitting delays and denials," Trump said at an event with engineers in Texas on Wednesday, before signing the two orders. "Where it will take you 20 years to get a permit, those days are gone.”

The actions aim to boost energy infrastructure and remove specific barriers blocking existing plans for cross-country natural gas transportation and interstate pipeline construction.


Speaking at the International Union of Operating Engineers International Training and Education Center in Crosby, Texas, Trump called the presidential orders “groundbreaking” measures to “continue the revival of the American energy industry.”

“We made a lot of progress in the last 2 1/2 years, haven’t we? We took down a lot of barriers to production and the pumping,” Trump told the crowd.

The orders specifically take aim at key pipeline holdups, such as on the Constitution Pipeline, a 124-mile natural gas pipeline project from Pennsylvania to New York.

The project received a federal permit in 2014 but has since been halted by state regulators. New York has refused to issue a key water permit to begin construction, arguing the pipeline would threaten groundwater reserves, which the state has the ability to regulate under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

One of the new executive orders will specifically limit such environmental reviews of the projects. Specifically, it will direct the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clarify a section of the CWA that gives states authority over their water quality permits.

Environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers were quick to push back on the president’s plan, arguing the move threatened state powers.

Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeSeattle is first major US city to see 70 percent of residents fully vaccinated, mayor says Rivers, hydropower and climate resilience Environmentalists see infrastructure as crucial path to climate goals MORE (D), along with the state Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D), called the orders “an unprecedented assault” on states' rights to protect their water under the CWA. Inslee is running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, with climate issues as his signature priority.

“No amount of politicking will change the facts — states have full authority under the Clean Water Act to protect our waters and ensure the health and safety of our people. Washington will not allow this or any presidential administration to block us from discharging that authority lawfully and effectively,” Inslee, a 2020 presidential candidate, said in the statement.

On a call with reporters Tuesday night, a senior administration official said Trump’s orders were a way to “build out an energy infrastructure and provide a good, consistent, reliable path forward and relationship between business and federal government going forward.”

The second executive order will focus on easing restrictions for cross-state transport of crude oil and natural gas. It will ask the Department of Transportation to create a new rule that would classify liquified natural gas (LNG) similarly to other cryogenic liquids, which would newly allow it to be shipped via train. Critics have long maintained that cross-country LNG rail transport poses significant environmental and safety concerns, as trains have in the past fallen off tracks and caused deadly outcomes.

The official said the LNG safety standards determined 40 years ago bear “little resemblance” to larger facilities that exist in the U.S. today.

The presidential orders also give Trump consolidated powers to scrutinize any potential environmental impacts of pipeline construction. The State Department until now has held those powers. Under the new order, the department will instead advise the president on the projects 60 days after a pipeline application is received.

“The president’s Executive Order clarifies that any decision to issue any cross border permit shall be issued only by the president,” the White House official said.

Last year the U.S. became the top producer of LNG globally, a fact Trump highlighted in his speech on Wednesday.

“With the help of the incredible workers in this room, the United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas, anywhere in the world, anywhere on the planet,” he said.

A number of fossil fuel companies and industry groups backed Trump’s plan Wednesday.

“Currently, the process for reviewing and approving new or expanded interstate natural gas pipelines is robust and transparent — two things that we continue to believe are essential — but procedural inefficiencies can delay a process that already spans several years,” said Don Santa, CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America.

The debate on pipeline permitting has been a lightning rod in national energy policy for much of a decade. No other pipeline has developed as much notoriety as the proposed TransCanada Corp. Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Last week Trump issued a new presidential permit for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline with a facility in Montana, a move seen as a way to circumvent previous court orders halting development.

The order superseded a March 2017 permit that was invalidated by a Montana federal judge in November. The ruling is being appealed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Separately, a December lawsuit placed an injunction on most pre-construction activities.

A White House spokesperson told The Hill that the new permit "dispels any uncertainty."

The move has already generated at least one lawsuit.

Rebecca Beitsch contributed.