Trump Wields Presidential Power on Pipeline, Energy Projects - NBC Bay Area
National & International News
The day’s top national and international news

Trump Wields Presidential Power on Pipeline, Energy Projects

Trump has shown a willingness to override his own agencies to accomplish his aims

    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    Should You Buy a Mattress Online or in the Store?
    Nati Harnik/AP
    In this Aug. 6, 2017 file photo, demonstrators against the Keystone XL pipeline listen to speakers in Lincoln, Neb. Eager to jump-start the stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline and other energy projects, President Donald Trump has moved to assert presidential power over pipelines and other infrastructure.

    Eager to jump-start the stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline and other energy projects, President Donald Trump has acted to assert executive power over pipelines and such infrastructure.

    He issued a new permit for Keystone XL and insisted this exercise of presidential authority was not subject to judicial review. Then he signed an executive order clarifying that the president alone has the power to grant permits for cross-border projects such as pipelines. A separate order makes it harder for states to block pipelines and other energy projects on the basis of environmental concerns.

    Taken together, the actions amount to a broad assertion of power that reverses more than 50 years of precedent that delegated decision-making on energy projects to individual agencies.

    Trump has shown a willingness to override his own agencies to accomplish his aims. His actions, if upheld by the courts, could consolidate power over energy projects at the White House, increasing the influence of the president's political advisers and potentially cutting out experts and career officials throughout the government.

    Trump: I ‘Assume’ Mueller Checked My Taxes

    [NATL] Trump: I ‘Assume’ Mueller Checked My Taxes

    President Donald Trump said Wednesday he “assumes” special counsel Robert Mueller has looked at his taxes as part of his investigation. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said by email “we’ll decline to comment” when asked to confirm whether Mueller had obtained Trump’s tax returns.

    (Published Wednesday, April 24, 2019)

    "Too often badly needed energy infrastructure is being held back by special interest groups, entrenched bureaucracies and radical activists," Trump said Wednesday before signing the executive orders at an event in Texas.

    Pipeline opponents say Trump acted illegally. They have asked a federal court to block the new Keystone permit, arguing that it is an effort to get around an earlier court ruling.

    But one legal expert said Trump's approach might succeed.

    "He has now created a whole new decision-making structure" for cross-border pipelines, said Richard Pierce, a law professor at George Washington University.

    If the courts follow a 1992 Supreme Court ruling, they may find that action taken by the State Department in approving or rejecting the pipeline "is nonreviewable, because it doesn't qualify as final agency action," Pierce said. Further, Trump's decision would not be subject to review because of a separate law that declares the president is not an agency and therefore is not bound by rules that apply to agency actions.

    "That's a very clever approach that might well work," Pierce said.

    Supreme Court Split on Citizenship Question for 2020 Census

    [NATL] Supreme Court Split on Citizenship Question for 2020 Census

    The Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday over the Trump administration's plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. There was a divide between the court's liberal and conservative justices during arguments in the case that could affect how many seats states have in the House of Representatives, as well as their share of federal funds for the next 10 years. 

    (Published Wednesday, April 24, 2019)

    Trump's actions are "typical of this presidency," said Holly Doremus, an environmental law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. She said Trump frequently seeks to stretch the limits of his power, and she cited Trump's declaration of an emergency that he says allows him to shift more money to construction of a promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

    In the case of Keystone, Trump appears to be arguing that the new presidential permit, issued March 29, gets around restrictions under the National Environmental Policy Act or other laws, because the statutes apply to executive-branch agencies but not to the president, Doremus said.

    "If the president is the only discretionary decision maker, NEPA simply does not apply," she said.

    While Trump's theory is plausible, it is unclear who is the ultimate decision-maker on Keystone XL, Doremus said. The pipeline would ship crude oil from the tar sands of western Canada to U.S. refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.

    Both a 2015 rejection of the project by the Obama administration and a 2017 approval by Trump were issued by the State Department under terms of a 2004 executive order that delegated presidential authority for cross-border projects to that agency.

    Trump's executive order revokes the 2004 order, issued by President George W. Bush. Bush's action extended an executive order first issued by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968.

    Democrats Divided Over Trump Impeachment

    [NATL] Democrats Divided Over Trump Impeachment

    Democrats are divided over whether to impeach President Donald Trump for obstructing the investigation into Russia interfering in the 2016 election. Some Democrats think there's already enough evidence to impeach President Trump, while others say it's a futile move without Republican buy-in.

    (Published Tuesday, April 23, 2019)

    "It's surprising that the president would come in and single-handedly try to circumvent 50 years of precedent for these types of projects by just issuing a permit himself," said Doug Hayes, a Sierra Club attorney who has sued to block the Keystone project in court.

    In November, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Montana ruled that the Trump administration did not fully consider potential oil spills and other impacts when it approved the pipeline in 2017. Morris ordered a new environmental review of the pipeline.

    The White House said the new permit issued by Trump "dispels any uncertainty" about the long-delayed project, which was first proposed a decade ago by Calgary-based TransCanada.

    Trump's move on Keystone XL reinforces the idea that "the presidential permit is indeed an exercise of presidential authority that is not subject to judicial review," according to the White House.

    Under the new order, federal officials still would conduct environmental reviews of the project, but they would be carried out by agencies other than the State Department, the White House said.

    TransCanada spokesman Matthew John said the administration's action "clearly demonstrates to the courts that the permit is (the) product of presidential decision-making and should not be subject to additional environmental review."

    'Tonight': Fallon Spoofs Bernie Sanders in 'Old Town Hall'

    [NATL] 'Tonight': Fallon Spoofs Bernie Sanders in 'Old Town Hall'

    Bernie Sanders (Jimmy Fallon) tries to appeal to younger voters in the 2020 presidential race by rapping to the tune of Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus' "Old Town Road" remix.

    (Published Tuesday, April 23, 2019)

    Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said it was "strange" that Trump issued the executive order after granting the new permit.

    "The White House is making the argument supposedly that he has untrammeled authority and doesn't have to obey the laws of Congress" in approving a cross-border pipeline, Tobias said. "I'm dubious and I think a number of other people are, too."

    Kathryn Watts, a law professor at the University of Washington, said it's unclear what happens next. Trump's permit wades into "uncharted, unsettled" legal territory, she said.

    Associated Press writer Matthew Brown contributed to this report.