Trump signs orders making it harder to block pipelines in US, in support of “Big Oil.”

Trump’s orders direct the EPA to change a part of the US clean water law to speed up gas, coal and oil projects

Storage tanks at a refinery along the waterway are shown in Port Arthur, Texas [David J Phillip/AP Photo]
Storage tanks at a refinery along the waterway are shown in Port Arthur, Texas [David J Phillip/AP Photo]

US President Donald Trump issued two executive orders in the heart of the Texas energy hub on Wednesday that seek to speed gas, coal and oil projects delayed by coastal states as he looks to build support in the run-up to next year’s election.

Trump’s orders direct his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to change a part of the United States‘s clean water law that has allowed states, on the basis of environmental reasons, to delay projects such as pipelines to carry natural gas to New England and coal export terminals on the West Coast.

Trump issued the orders at a training centre for union members in the petroleum industry in Houston, an event sandwiched between fundraising events in Texas for the 2020 campaign.

“Outdated federal guidance and regulations issued by the EPA have caused confusion and uncertainty leading to project delays, lost jobs and reduced economic performance,” a senior administration official told reporters in a conference call.

“We are not trying to take away power from the states, but we are trying to make sure that state actions comply with the statutory intent of the law,” the official added.

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‘In favour of Big Oil’

But environmentalists have decried the orders.

“Trump can try to rewrite regulations in favour of Big Oil, but he can’t stop people power and our movement,” May Boeve, the head of 350.org, told Reuters news agency.

The orders will direct the EPA to review and update guidance issued during the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama on the so-called 401 provision of the Clean Water Act.

The measure required companies to get certifications from states before building interstate pipelines approved by the federal government.

New York state used it to block pipelines that would send natural gas to New England, forcing the region at times to import liquefied natural gas from countries including Russia.

In 2017, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat and 2020 candidate for president, denied a water permit for the Millennium Bulk Terminal, a coal export facility that would have expanded the ability of companies to send Western coal to Asian markets.

Inslee, who has centred his campaign on tackling climate change, slammed Trump’s latest tactic on energy.

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“If Donald Trump is proposing it, it a) violates science and b) probably violates any sense of economic growth, because we know the largest economic growth is now coming from the development of new energy technologies,” Inslee said on the sidelines of a conference in New York.

‘Energy dominance’

The executive orders are part of the Trump administration’s policy of “energy dominance” to increase oil, gas and coal production, but forcing the EPA changes will take time.

The official said the agency would have to follow normal procedures, including a comment period, and that projects already tied up in litigation “are obviously a much longer-term issue”.

One of the orders will direct the transportation secretary to propose allowing liquefied natural gas, a liquid form of the fuel, to be shipped in approved rail cars, a change that could increase its flow between terminals and markets.

The executive orders could also speed projects in Texas.

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Energy investors vying for permits to build oil export terminals along the Gulf Coast say they have worked closely with Trump officials in a bid to speed regulatory reviews of facilities capable of loading supertankers.

US and state agencies overseeing permit applications have taken too long to approve projects, the investors said, adding they were worried their projects would miss the most profitable years of the US crude export boom.

Four energy groups led by Trafigura AG, Carlyle Group, Enterprise Products Partners LP and Enbridge Inc have applied to build terminals in Texas.

 

The Fox in Charge of the Henhouse: Trump’s EPA Pick, Coal Lobbyist Andrew Wheeler

JANUARY 17, 2019

Senate confirmation hearings began Wednesday for former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, whom President Trump has nominated to become administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Wheeler has been the acting head of the EPA since Scott Pruitt resigned in July amid an onslaught of financial and ethics scandals. We speak with Heather McTeer Toney, national field director for Moms Clean Air Force and former Southeast regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration. We also speak with Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

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Lead poisoning: Water supply to most Chicago houses contaminated

Lead was found in nearly 70 percent of the water samples collected by a leading local newspaper.

Pipes in some cities across the United States are so old that they are leaching out lead into water systems.

The Chicago Tribune has found 70 percent of houses in Chicago had lead in tap water. In three out of the 10 samples, lead levels exceeded five parts per billion, the maximum level the US Food and Drug Administration allows in bottled water.

Al Jazeera’s John Hendren reports.