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Executives: Trump's infrastructure orders encouraging, but commitment is key

Executive orders and directives issued by the Trump administration on infrastructure permitting, regulatory reform and other issues are encouraging to energy industry stakeholders, but many see the continued focus on the issues as key to whether the administration will accomplish the intended goals.

"An executive order is really a press release with some teeth," Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the American Gas Association, said Jan. 31 at the U.S. Energy Association's State of the Energy Industry conference in Washington, D.C.

President Donald Trump signed a number of executive orders and directives in his first week in the Oval Office that could have an impact on the energy industry. They included advancement of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, changes to environmental review processes to speed up permitting of major infrastructure projects, and a call to cut or review two regulations for every one that is proposed.

McCurdy sees the actions taken by Trump in his first days in office to speed environmental review and permitting processes as a good sign. He was surprised to see a directive for pipeline projects to use only American steel because procuring American materials is "not usually a major hurdle" if there is enough lead time on a project. But McCurdy believes the orders are an important recognition of the issues Trump sees as crucial for his administration to address.

National Mining Association President and CEO Hal Quinn agreed, but he said the key is whether Trump and his team keep those issues in the forefront and follow up on them.

President Barack Obama also attempted to speed the permitting process for electric grid projects through the Department of Energy's Interagency Rapid Response Team for Transmission. Only a select few of the seven projects were built, and others are still working through permitting at various stages of development.

Quinn wondered how often Obama and White House staff followed up to ensure the Rapid Response Team was still working after it was announced. So Quinn believes Trump's continued engagement in infrastructure issues will determine whether the proposal is a success.

As for the 2-for-1 regulation order, Quinn questioned how such a regulatory process would be implemented, but he welcomed the "accountability" that will be introduced as part of the process.

The panelists also commented on Trump's Cabinet picks, including former Texas Gov. Rick Perry for the Department of Energy, U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke for the Department of Interior and Scott Pruitt for the EPA.

Of the three, McCurdy sees Pruitt, currently the attorney general of Oklahoma, as the most controversial. He said that for Pruitt to succeed, Congress needs to step up and legislate and clarify issues that have been hanging over the EPA on regulation. But McCurdy believes Pruitt will be more balanced than many have expected him to be, given his history of litigation against the agency he hopes to lead.

In general, American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard said many of the nominees' "vast experience" in business will be an asset, as they know how to run a business and how the industries work.