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Trump signs orders to speed up oil and gas pipeline construction

Environmentalists criticise decision, saying it would exacerbate climate change

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Mr Trump meets with workers outside the International Union of Operating Engineers training centre in Crosby, Texas.

Houston

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump signed two executive orders on Wednesday that he says will speed up construction of pipelines and other projects to enhance the production and transport of oil and natural gas between states and across international borders.

The actions are unlikely to have much of an immediate effect, and will probably attract legal challenges by state governments seeking to preserve control over such projects.

But the orders are symbolically important for a president who likes to take credit for a boom in energy production and exports. And he delivered the message in Texas, an oil-rich Republican state where Democrats recently made electoral gains.

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One order directs the Environmental Protection Agency to review and tighten rules to make it more difficult for states to scuttle pipelines by invoking provisions of the Clean Water Act.

Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, an opponent of hydraulic fracturing, has blocked natural gas pipelines that would connect several North-eastern states to Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale gas field. A shortage of natural-gas pipeline capacity prompted Consolidated Edison to impose a moratorium on new gas connections last month in parts of Westchester County.

The other executive order would transfer authority for approving the construction of international pipelines from the secretary of state to the president, eliminating a lengthy State Department review process. The goal is to speed up projects like the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr Trump last month issued a new presidential permit to Keystone XL, which has been delayed since the early years of the Obama administration.

But the pipeline is being contested in the courts by environmentalists, farmers and some Native American groups.

"Too often, badly needed energy infrastructure is being held back by special-interest groups, entrenched bureaucracies and radical activists," Mr Trump said at the International Union of Operating Engineers training centre in Crosby, Texas, near Houston.

"This obstruction does not just hurt families and workers like you. It undermines our independence and national security."

Environmentalists were quick to criticise the orders issued on Wednesday, which they said would exacerbate climate change. "President Trump is curtailing the public's voice in an attempt to force dirty energy projects on communities across America," said Joshua Axelrod, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Pipelines like Keystone XL pose dangers to our water, our farms and our climate."

But oil executives said the orders would give Washington greater flexibility as it tried to limit oil exports from Venezuela and Iran while keeping gas prices low.

"These are things that are good for our country and for the energy business to continue to help us be energy independent," said Dale Redman, chief executive of ProPetro, a major Texas oil service company.

Delays in pipeline construction have long bedevilled oil and gas companies, constraining production growth in West Texas and elsewhere. But new pipelines crossing Texas will be completed at the end of this year and in 2020 without much federal intervention.

In some cases, oil field economics, not federal policy, have stood in the way of new pipelines. Many energy companies have been burning gas that bubbles up with crude oil - a process known as flaring - because gas prices are so low that it would not be profitable to build pipelines to bring all of it to market.

But several states have put up roadblocks to Trump's efforts to champion fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal. Washington state has blocked the building of export terminals vital to the survival of the Western coal industry at a time when utilities are shutting down coal-fired power plants. And Michigan last month halted an underwater oil pipeline project proposed by Enbridge, a major Canadian energy company, to import oil from Canada.

Mr Cuomo said in a statement on Wednesday: "President Trump's executive order is a gross overreach of federal authority that undermines New York's ability to protect our water quality and our environment." NYTIMES