Trump approves pipelines, withdraws from TPP: contradiction?

President Trump on Jan. 24 signed orders giving the go-ahead for construction of the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, which had been halted by the Obama administration. Obama's State Department rejected a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, and the Army Corps of Engineers had ordered work halted on the Dakota pipeline after weeks of protests by Native American groups and their activist allies. In a signing statement, Trump said the Keystone XL project will mean "a lot of jobs, 28,000 construction jobs, great construction jobs." In its own statement, TransCanada, the company seeking to build Keystone XL, said it "appreciate[s] the President of the United States inviting us to re-apply for KXL. We are currently preparing the application and intend to do so."

Trump also signed a decree mandating that the pipelines be built with American steel, "like we used to in the old days." Another decree, he said, will streamline "the incredibly cumbersome, long, horrible permitting process and reducing regulatory burdens for domestic manufacturing." A final decree seeks to especially simplify environmental reviews "for high-priority infrastructure projects."

It remains unclear how effectual these orders will actually be,  as many of the regulations in question are statutory and cannot be annulled by executive decree. The order on the Dakota Access pipeline directs the Army Corps of Engineers to "review and approve in an expedited manner, to the extent permitted by law." (NPR, WP, Jan. 24)

In remarks to the media, Trump said regulations on the private sector have "gotten out of control," and pledged he would slash them by "75 percent—maybe more." He added: "Now, we're going to have regulation. And it'll be just as strong and just as good and just as protective of the people as we have right now. But you're going to get such great service. There will be no country that's going to be faster, better, more fair, and at the same time protecting the people of the country."

Who he meant by "you" was fairly obvious: Standing beside him during these comments were senior officials from Lockheed Martin, Dow Chemical, US Steel, Dell Technologies, Johnson & Johnson, WhirlpoolUnder Armour and Tesla. And despite his lip service to "protecting the people," he griped that environmental regulation "makes it impossible to get anything built." Tellingly, he even used the word "monstrous" as a term of praise: "When you want to expand your plant... or when Dell wants to come in and do something monstrous and special, you're going to have your approvals really fas." (US News & World Report)

The promises about using domestic steel in the pipelines, meanwhile, are dubious. TransCanada has already spent over a billion dollars on steel for the Keystone XL project, with pipes stockpiled on the prairie for years across several states in preparation for construction. Half the steel was made outside the United States; the half made domestically was produced by Welspun, an India-based company. (Dakota Free Press)

Trump's executive orders ominously come as Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives quietly laid the groundwork for a privatization of federal public lands, instating a rule change that officially values these lands at zero—meaning their transfer to a "state, local government or tribal entity shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending or increasing outlays." At stake are a collective 640 million acres controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service and National Wildlife Refuge System. Devolving control of these lands to state and local authorities is a growing demand of the political right in Western states, and is explicitly presented as a step toward their ultimate privatization.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, passed by a vote of 234 to 193—despite its frankly nonsensical premise. Apart from their vast wealth in minerals, timber and other resources, these lands generate billions of dollars for the federal government annually from tourism, grazing fees and other activities. As the measure concerns House rules, it is effective immediately, requiring no action by the Senate or presidential signature. (The GuardianNCRM)

In another ominous sign that restrictions on resource exploitation are about to be radically lifted, he Trump administration has instituted a "gag order" at the Environmental Protection Agency, barring staff from any communication with the media or public. The White House has also instated a "contract freezee" at the EPA, barring the agency from issuing any new task orders or work assignments to its contractors. (AP)

The day before these executive orders were issued, Trump signed a memorandum withdrawing the US from the Tran-Pacific Partnership. The US Trade Representative website, which formerly contained the terms of the pending trade deal, now has on its front page a statement from the new administration promoting an "America First Trade Policy." (Jurist)

Note that Trump's actions here seem to be a perfect inverse of Obama's stance on these questions. Obama (responding to popular protest) halted the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, while aggressively pushing the TPP—which includes investor protection provisions that could be used by the pipeline developers to challenge his very cancelation of the projects. Trump, in contrast, seems to be gearing up for a system of total corporate power behind walls in a closed empire—international mechanisms be damned, along with domestic public oversight.

It is critically important that activists who have long been opposing the TPP and related trade deals not be fooled into thinking that this in any way represents an advance. On the contrary, it is a dangerous retrogression.

Trump signs executive order to cut federal regulations

US President Donald Trump  on Jan. 30 signed an executive order aimed at reducing the number of federal regulations. The executive order requires two regulations to be eliminated for every new one created and caps the costs of new regulations, which, according to White House officials, will spur economic growth. (Jurist)

Work resumes on Dakota Access pipeline

The US Army Corps of Engineers on Feb. 8 granted the last easement for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, and construction resumed the following day. An Energy Transfer Partners representative said that work was started "immediately after receiving the easement." That same day, the Cheyenne River Sioux filed a new legal challenge, asking a federal judge to stall the project's completion while a lawsuit against the pipeline continues. Attorney Nicole Ducheneaux said the pipeline "will desecrate the waters upon which Cheyenne River Sioux tribal members rely," according to court documents. The 1,172 mile (1,886km), four-state project, that would carry North Dakota oil to Illinois, is essentially complete except for the one-mile stretch under Lake Oahe, where demonstrators have set up protest encampments. (BBC News, CNN)

Last remnants of Dakota Access protest camp burned

Some of the last remnants of the Dakota Access pipeline protest camp went up in flames Feb. 22 as opponents of the project set fire to makeshift wooden housing as part of a leaving ceremony ahead of a government deadline to get off the federal land. (AP)

Judge denies emergency injunction against Dakota Access pipeline

A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia on March 14 denied (PDF) a request by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe for an emergency injunction to stop oil from flowing through the part of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) that runs under Lake Oahe. Judge James Boasberg denied the request because of the tribe's "lack of likelihood of success on the merits." In his order, Boasberg also echoed his previous opinion (PDF) from earlier this month stating "[t]he public interest would not be served by an injunction" because it would likely be turned over on appeal. He also acknowledged "that the Tribe is likely to suffer irreparable harm to its members' religious exercise if oil is introduced into the pipeline," but went on to say, "Dakota Access would also be substantially harmed by an injunction, given the financial and logistical injuries that would ensue." The DAPL is expected to be ready to carry oil by April 1. (Jurist)

Appeals court denies injunction against Dakota Access pipeline

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on March 18 rejected an emergency request (PDF) from two Native American tribes attempting to stop oil from flowing through the Dakota Access pipeline. As a result of this rejection, the Dakota Access pipeline could begin could begin operating as soon as tomorrow. The three judge panel rejected the request because the native american tribes "have not satisfied the stringent requirements for issuance of an injunction pending appeal." In a concurring opinion, one judge noted that the denial was due to the fact that the emergency request was based upon the tribes' Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) claim, which has not yet been accepted as an issue in the litigation. (Jurist)

First spill on Dakota Access pipeline reported

A leaky surge pump along the Dakota Access oil pipeline spilled 84 gallons of crude oil in April at the pump station just north of Crandon in Spink County, SD, according to Brian Walsh, an environmental scientist with state Department of Environment and Natural Resources Ground Water Quality Program. (Dakota Media Group, May 10)

Dakota Access pipeline officially opens

From AP, June 1:

The $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline began shipping oil for customers on Thursday, as Native American tribes that opposed the project vowed to continue fighting.

Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners announced that the 1,200-mile line carrying North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a distribution point in Illinois had begun commercial service. The Dakota Access pipeline and the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline from Illinois to the Gulf Coast together make up the $4.8 billion Bakken Pipeline system, which ETP said has commitments for about 520,000 barrels of oil daily.

"The pipeline will transport light, sweet crude oil from North Dakota to major refining markets in a more direct, cost-effective, safer and more environmentally responsible manner than other modes of transportation, including rail or truck," the company said in a statement...

Four Sioux tribes in the Dakotas are still fighting in federal court in Washington, D.C., hoping to persuade a judge to shut down the line...

"Now that the Dakota Access pipeline is fully operational, we find it more urgent than ever that the courts and administration address the risks posed to the drinking water of millions of American citizens," Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault said in a statement. "This pipeline became operational today, yet it has already leaked at least three times."

The leaks came as the line was being prepared for service. The Dakota Access pipeline and a feeder line leaked more than 100 gallons of oil in western North Dakota in separate incidents in March, and the Dakota Access line leaked 84 gallons of oil in northern South Dakota in April. No waterways were affected.

Court: DAPL permit violated law

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe won a significant victory today in its fight to protect the Tribe’s drinking water and ancestral lands from the Dakota Access pipeline. A federal judge in Washington DC ruled that the federal permits authorizing the pipeline to cross the Missouri River just upstream of the Standing Rock reservation, hastily issued by the Trump administration just days after the inauguration, violated the law in certain critical respects.

Judge James Boasberg wrote, "the Court agrees that [the Corps] did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial." The court did not determine whether pipeline operations should be shut off and has requested additional briefing on the subject and a status conference next week. (EarthJustice, June 14)