Trump's executive order paves a smooth path for oil pipelines

PHOTO: President Donald Trump signss an executive order on energy and infrastructure during a campaign event at the International Union of Operating Engineers International Training and Education Center in Crosby, Texas, April 10, 2019.PlayCarlos Barria/Reuters
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In the latest move by the Trump administration to boost fossil fuels and cut back on regulations, President Donald Trump announced two executive orders on Wednesday that are aimed at cutting "unnecessary red tape" for American energy companies by making it difficult for states to block projects by using the Clean Water Act.

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"My action today will cut through destructing permitting delays and denials," Trump said at the International Union of Operating Engineers International Training and Education Center in Crosby, Texas.

Advocacy groups have expressed concern over the executive orders.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump is applauded during a campaign event at the International Union of Operating Engineers International Training and Education Center in Crosby, Texas, April 10, 2019. Carlos Barria/Reuters
President Donald Trump is applauded during a campaign event at the International Union of Operating Engineers International Training and Education Center in Crosby, Texas, April 10, 2019.

Addressing a crowd of supporters and hard-hat wearing workers, the president boasted about the work his administration has done to boost fossil fuel industry in an area of the country where oil-and-gas is an economic lifeblood.

Trump thanked Texas lawmakers -- most notably Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush -- the son of his 2016 rival former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

"This is the only Bush that likes me, this is the only one," Trump said inviting him on stage. "He’s a friend of my son, truly this is the Bush that got it right," Trump said.

Currently under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, states can choose to reject an infrastructure or pipeline project if they believe it could impact the state’s water. In a call with reporters, an administration official said implementation of the rule has led to "confusion and uncertainty, leading to project delays, lost jobs, and reduced economic performance."

The first executive order calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to review how states, tribes, and agencies handle the Clean Water Act’s interim guidance and directs the Department of Transportation to propose a rule updating how liquefied natural gas is transported.

The second order clarifies that any decisions about cross-border permits will no longer be made by the Secretary of State, but by the president -- an announcement that was met by loud cheers from the crowd gathered in the audience.

"The main thing we want to be doing here is to kind of reset and take a look at how the federal government impacts these investments and build out an energy infrastructure and make sure that we provide a good, consistent, viable path forward, in terms of a relationship between the private sector and the federal government going forward," an administration official said.

The executive orders were driven by the National Economic Council and its director, Larry Kudlow, according to the White House. In a news release following Trump's signing, the EPA said it was taking steps to begin implementing the president's executive order.

PHOTO: People kayak in the Animas River near Durango, Colo., in water colored from a mine waste spill, Aug. 6, 2015. The Durango Herald via AP, File
People kayak in the Animas River near Durango, Colo., in water colored from a mine waste spill, Aug. 6, 2015.

The Western Governors' Association, a nonpartisan coalition of governors west of the Mississippi River, said in a January letter that changes to Section 401 of the Clean Water Act would "inflict serious harm" to boundaries between state and federal authorities. The letter went on to say, "This declaration demonstrates the understanding of Congress that a one-size-fits-all approach to water management and protection does not accommodate the practical realities of geographic and hydrologic diversity among states."

D.J. Gerken, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, stressed that states should be able to keep their autonomy.

"States should have the right to protect their own water. They know what's best for their citizens," Gerken said. "There's a very consistent trendline of pushing back on experts, pushing back on states, pushing back on anyone who stands in the way of the politically influential business interests that the Trump administration views itself as representing."

Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., a Democrat from New Jersey and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, stressed that residents' voices were being silenced.

Trump's order would, "effectively eliminate a landowners’ ability to fight companies seizing their land for such projects by removing one of the few tools to ensure thoughtful review. I’m going to fight this tooth and nail," Pallone said in a statement.

Wednesday's executive orders come on the heels of the Trump administration’s attempts to approve controversial pipeline permits and narrow definitions of federally protected bodies of water.

PHOTO: A TransCanadas Keystone pipeline facility is seen in Hardisty, Alberta, Nov. 6, 2015. Jeff Mcintosh/Canadian Press via AP
A TransCanada's Keystone pipeline facility is seen in Hardisty, Alberta, Nov. 6, 2015.

In March, Trump issued a new permit for TransCanada Corporation's controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would carry 800,000 barrels of crude oil daily from Canada down to the Gulf Coast. Despite concerns of potential pollution cited by President Barack Obama, Trump approved the pipeline through an executive order, saying it would benefit the economy.

And in December, the EPA and Army proposed narrowing the definition of bodies of water that receive federal protection. Creeks and streams that are only wet after it rains would be exempt under the proposed change, and wetlands that aren’t connected to large bodies of water would receive less protection.

Gerken stressed that a change to one part of the Clean Water Rule could have consequences nationwide.

"All our water connects," Gerken said. "You can't protect the Mississippi River and ignore all the streams that flow into it and think you're protecting water quality."

But the orders were met by praise from industry groups and some Republican lawmakers. The president of the National Association of Manufacturers Jay Timmons said the orders "will boost job creation, energy security, the growth of U.S. exports and the expansion of manufacturing in America."

"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. Streamlining the process to ensure it is safe, comprehensive and predictable is a top priority," Don Santa, president and CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, a trade organization that advocates for the natural gas pipeline industry said in a statement.

PHOTO: Coastal waters flow through wetlands on Aug. 25, 2015 in Saint Bernard Parish, La. Mario Tama/Getty Images, FILE
Coastal waters flow through wetlands on Aug. 25, 2015 in Saint Bernard Parish, La.

Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming and chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said states were "hijacking the Clean Water Act."

"The water quality certification process is designed to protect America’s water, not advance liberal political agendas," Barrasso said in a statement.

U.S. Department of the Interior acting Secretary David Bernhardt applauded Trump's decision, and Rep. Rob Bishop, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Natural Resources, lauded Trump in a statement for making "necessary changes."

The president's signing event was bookended by fundraisers in San Antonio and Houston. The president’s 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale and RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel flew down with the president on Air Force One for the events.

ABC News' Tessa Weinberg reported from Washington.

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