By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump will issue two executive orders in the heart of the Texas energy hub on Wednesday seeking to speed gas, coal and oil projects delayed by coastal states as he looks to build support ahead of next year’s election.
Trump’s orders will direct his Environmental Protection Agency to change a part of the U.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 will issue 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“Outdated federal guidance and regulations issued by the EPA have caused confusion and uncertainty leading to project delays, lost jobs and reduced economic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.”
An environmentalist decried the planned orders. “Trump can try to rewrite regulations in favour of Big Oil, but he can’t stop people power and our movement,” said May Boeve, the head of 350.org.
The orders will direct the EPA to review and update guidance issued during the administration of 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 state 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.
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. 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.
U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington and Collin Eaton in Houston; Editing by Peter Cooney)