President Trump signed an executive order (EO) Tuesday calling for the federal government to expedite its review and permitting of major infrastructure projects, which should include oil and natural gas pipelines.
Although a copy of the EO had not yet been posted to the White House's official website by the time the president emerged in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan to discuss it with reporters, he confirmed earlier reports from a White House source that the EO’s streamlined regulatory process calls for "one federal decision" in determining whether an infrastructure project goes forward.
Trump also confirmed that the EO will set "a two-year goal for completion of the permitting process," while also holding various federal agencies accountable for their roles in such reviews.
"We've just had a great set of briefings upstairs on our infrastructure agenda," Trump said. "My agenda is working every day to deliver the world-class infrastructure that our people deserve, and frankly that our country deserves. That's why I just signed a new EO to dramatically reform the nation's badly broken infrastructure permitting process...
"This over-regulated permitting process is a massive self-inflicted wound on our country. It's disgraceful."
Flanked by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Trump unraveled a flow chart he said shows how long it currently takes to issue permits for a highway. The president derided a process that he said could take decades.
"This is what we will bring it down to; this is less than two years," Trump said. "This is going to happen quickly, that's what I'm signing today. So it's going to be quick, it's going to be a very streamlined process. And by the way, if it doesn't meet environmental safeguards, we're not going to approve it. It's very simple. We're not going to approve it."
Trump later said the EO "also requires agencies to work together efficiently by requiring one lead agency for each major infrastructure project. It also holds agencies accountable if they fail to streamline their review process. So each agency is accountable. We're going to get infrastructure built quickly, inexpensively -- relatively speaking -- and the permitting process will go very, very quickly."
The president also mentioned his commitment to using U.S.-made steel in infrastructure projects. Trade associations representing the majority of U.S. pipeline operators warned the Trump administration last April that requiring American steel for new pipelines could lead to the unintended consequence of construction delays.
During the presidential campaign, in campaign stops that included energy-supported areas of Bismarck, ND, and Pittsburgh, Trump frequently complained about the length of time it takes federal regulators to approve infrastructure projects. That criticism has continued since he took the oath of office in January. Last month the president signed a separate EO establishing a presidential advisory council on infrastructure.
Several officials within the Trump administration have also complained about the slow pace of the federal permitting process.
In June, Vice President Mike Pence said the White House wanted to significantly reduce wait times for federal permitting on infrastructure projects, and pointed to its quick approval of the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines as strong support for energy development. One month later, during a visit to Mexico, Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry called for streamlined permitting of cross-border energy infrastructure.
Two bills designed to streamline the permitting process for energy infrastructure, including oil and gas pipelines, passed the House of Representatives in July with bipartisan support. HR 2883 calls for replacing the presidential permit requirement for oil and natural gas pipelines and electric transmission facilities that cross the U.S. border with Canada or Mexico. Meanwhile, HR 2910 calls for strengthening FERC's lead agency role and further defines the process for federal and state regulatory agencies involved in the permitting process for interstate natural gas pipelines.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission swore in two commissioners last week, restoring a quorum that was lost in January with the resignation of Norman Bay. Robert Powelson officially joined FERC last Thursday, two days after Neil Chatterjee was sworn in. Chatterjee is acting as Chairman until at least the expected confirmation of Kevin McIntyre next month.