Trump Signs Executive Order to Speed Up Environmental Review and Approval of Infrastructure Projects

Fri Jan 27th, On Environmental Law, by

On January 24, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order to expedite environmental reviews and approvals for high priority infrastructure projects.  Consistent with his campaign promises to reduce regulatory burdens for domestic manufacturers and to create more American jobs, the order purports that delays caused by agency processes and procedures have prevented the American people from the full benefits of increased infrastructure investments. 

To that end, the order states “it is the policy of the executive branch to streamline and expedite, in a manner consistent with law, environmental reviews and approvals for all infrastructure projects, especially those that are high priority for the Nation, such as improving the U.S. electric grid and telecommunications systems and repairing and upgrading critical port facilities, airports, pipelines, bridges, and highways.”  It will be the duty of the Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to decide, upon request by a state, the head of any executive department, or on his or her own initiative, whether an infrastructure project qualifies as a “high priority.”  The Chairman of the CEQ then will work with the head of the relevant agency to establish expedited procedures and deadlines for completion of environmental reviews and deadlines for any project designated as such. 

This executive order is in line with other executive directives signed by Trump on January 24:

  • Presidential Memorandum Streamlining Permitting and Reducing Regulatory Burdens for Domestic Manufacturing;
  • Presidential Memorandum Regarding Construction of American Pipelines;
  • Presidential Memorandum Regarding Construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline;
  • Presidential Memorandum Regarding Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

These directives collectively are designed to expand manufacturing in the United States, reduce regulatory burdens on domestic manufacturing, expedite reviews and approval, ensure usage of materials and equipment produced in the United States, create American jobs, and otherwise allow projects that “would serve the national interest” to proceed as efficiently as possible. 

While these directives were styled as presidential memoranda they essentially are executive orders by another name; both forms of presidential action have the force of law on the executive branch.  Executive orders are often organizational, used to create new executive branch committees, processes, or lines of responsibility, while presidential memoranda are used to delegate tasks and reports assigned by Congress to the president, start a regulatory process, or direct a specific department or agency to do something.  Indeed, here it appears Trump has set forth the Administration’s policy regarding environmental review and approval of major domestic projects in an executive order and used the presidential memoranda to set forth specific directives to particular departments and agencies to implement this policy.

For example, the Presidential Memorandum Regarding Construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline expressly invites TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, L.P. to “promptly” resubmit its application to the Department of State for a Presidential permit for the construction and operation of the Keystone XL Pipeline.  The Secretary of State then is instructed to “take all actions necessary and appropriate to facilitate its expeditious review.”  The directive also provides that the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Department of State in January 2014 regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline to be considered to satisfy all applicable requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and any other law that requires executive consultation or review, including that required under section 7(a) of the Endangered Species Act.

In any event, the message from the Trump Administration is clear:  American companies can expect to encounter less environmental scrutiny by the executive branch for pipeline and other major infrastructure projects, and permitting and other procedural processes will be streamlined with an emphasis on growing and developing manufacturing in the United States. 

The executive order and presidential memoranda can be found here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions.

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