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Trump seeks to use 'economic emergency' order to speed pipeline approvals

Highlights

Aims to accelerate permitting by waiving environmental rules

Order to invoke March 13 national emergency declaration

Washington — The Trump administration aims to speed federal approval of energy pipelines, mines, highways and other infrastructure by asserting that a national "economic emergency" warrants that agencies waive long-standing environmental rules, the Washington Post reported June 4.

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Trump plans to sign the order later June 4, according to the White House schedule, but the administration has not released any text.

An industry source told S&P Global Platts that the order would focus on permitting reforms to speed project investment, and it would direct agencies to identify regulations that should be changed or temporary regulations that should be made permanent.

ClearView Energy Partners predicted the order would invoke authorities within the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act in conjunction with the National Environmental Policy Act to facilitate environmental waivers.

"Many of the nation's major environmental statutes also provide the [Environmental Protection Agency] with considerable discretionary authorities, including waiver authorities," ClearView said in a June 4 note. "Such waivers have frequently been used in the context of natural disasters to facilitate cleanup and reconstruction."

Trump declared a national emergency under the Stafford Act on March 13 as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the US.

The latest executive order is sure to draw lawsuits if projects get greenlighted as a result of it.

Trump has signed several executive orders in the past aimed at speeding pipeline approvals, but major projects like TC Energy's Keystone XL heavy crude pipeline remain mired in court challenges.

"It is far from clear that the president has the legal authority to do this," said Joel Mintz, a former EPA enforcement attorney and law professor at Nova Southeastern University College of Law.

NEPA "is a clear directive from Congress to federal agencies that the president cannot ignore or change unilaterally," Mintz added. "This is also very bad public policy. Pipelines and other infrastructure can do great environmental harm. Their impact should be carefully examined, as NEPA requires, before they are allowed to go forward."