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President Trump Signs Two Executive Orders to Speed Approval of Fossil Fuel Projects

In two new executive orders, Trump seeks to expand executive power over pipelines and make it harder for states to block oil and gas projects.

President Donald Trump signed two executive orders on Wednesday aimed at expediting the process for the construction of pipelines and other fossil fuel projects, by limiting states' authority over building projects and expanding executive power.

Long frustrated by regulators in states like New York and Washington, who have blocked gas and coal projects citing environmental and health concerns, Trump is seeking to limit states' ability to participate in the permitting process. His first order directs the Environmental Protection Agency to review a section of the Clean Water Act that requires state approval for the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure that threatens protected waters.

Trump's second executive order transfers authority for the construction of international pipeline's from the secretary of state to the president. Previously, approving such projects required a lengthy review by the Department of State. The order will also make the shipping of natural gas easier when a pipeline can't be used by instead utilizing motor or rail vehicles for transport.

Speaking at the International Union of Operating Engineers International Training and Education Center, in Crosby, Texas, Trump thanked the audience of engineers—a key part of part of his voter base—and vowed to end the "war on American energy," according to NPR.

These most recent executive orders are the latest in a long list of actions the Trump administration has taken in support of fossil fuels:

  • This week, the Trump administration has renewed its interest in auctioning off Florida's coastal waters for oil and gas drilling.
  • Last week, the president took aim at renewables, claiming that wind turbines cause cancer. (They don't.)
  • Last month, Trump issued a new presidential permit to expedite action on the Keystone XL pipeline. It is now being challenged in court.
  • In 2017, Trump signed two executive orders, reducing conservation of public lands and expanding oil drilling in the Arctic (the second of which was recently declared unlawful by Judge Sharon L. Gleason of the United States District Court for the District of Alaska).

And many key players in Trump's administration are beholden to oil interests. As Jared Keller reported in Pacific Standard last year, the Dirty Deputies, a database run by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a non-partisan policy institute, has documented 64 ties within the Trump administration to the fossil fuel industry and the Koch brothers. Many officials have previously lobbied for the oil industry themselves or have received money from oil interest groups. Trump's current nominee for the Department of the Interior, David Bernhardt, is a former energy lobbyist who is set to be confirmed on by the Senate on Thursday.

Environmental groups were quick to criticize the administration's latest attempts to bolster the fossil fuel industry. "President Trump is curtailing the public's voice in an attempt to force dirty energy projects on communities across America," Joshua Axelrod, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council told the New York Times. "Pipelines like Keystone XL pose dangers to our water, our farms and our climate."

It is widely accepted in the scientific community that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming and has widespread health impacts. The Union of Concerned Scientists, notes that all fossil fuels emit harmful air pollutants when burned, and, according to the World Health Organization, 93 percent of children around the globe "breathe air that is so polluted it puts their health and development at serious risk." The impacts of burning fossil fuels disproportionately impact children, people of color, and poor communities.

States have already begun to push back against Trump's most recent action, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who criticized the orders as a "gross overreach" of executive power. Jay Inslee, Washington governor and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, issued a joint statement with state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, stating, "We intend to challenge any attempt by the administration to illegally constrain Washington's authority to protect our state's natural resources."