Seeing impediments to jobs, Trump prioritizes pipelines over environmental protections

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Activists hold a rally against government approval of the planned Keystone XL oil pipeline, in front of the White House in Washington January 10, 2015. The pipeline cleared two hurdles on Friday, setting up a showdown between Congress and President Barack Obama who has raised new questions about the project after more than six years of review.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ENERGY CIVIL UNREST BUSINESS) - RTR4KUNQ

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JOHN YANG: As we reported, President Trump today signed a number of executive orders, some of them undoing part of President Obama’s environmental legacy.

William Brangham has more.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Two of those moves gave new life to two of the most contentious oil pipelines in America, the Dakota Access pipeline, which hundreds of Native American groups have been protesting, as well as the Keystone XL pipeline.

Both of these had been delayed or put on hold by the Obama administration.

To understand how these moves fit into the Trump administration’s broader plans for energy and environmental policy, I’m joined by Valerie Volcovici. She covers this for Reuters.

Welcome.

VALERIE VOLCOVICI, Reuters: Thank you.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So let’s talk about these two pipelines in particular.

The Dakota Access pipeline, what did Trump’s order say about that?

VALERIE VOLCOVICI: So, Trump’s order this morning basically said that he wants to expedite the process.

As you well know, the Dakota Access protest has really galvanized Native American tribal sovereignty issues. It’s brought together So, wide coalition of environmentalists, social activists, in addition to tribes.

So it’s been one of the more high-profile protests that we have seen in a while. Right now, it’s kind of stalled because former President Obama ordered an environmental review of a kind of contentious section of this pipeline that the tribe argues crosses into some sacred sites. His aim is really to move it along, because…

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: He wants to get this built.

VALERIE VOLCOVICI: He wants to get it built, and he said so on the campaign trail, and he is following through on day four, whatever it is, of the administration.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Yes, this one really wasn’t that much of a surprise, if you had been listening to him all along.

VALERIE VOLCOVICI: Right.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And then what about the Keystone XL? That is a slightly different issue. This was another pipeline that goes from Canada down to the Gulf.

And this was one that Obama for many, many years seemed to wrangle with and debate what to do, and then eventually denied the permit for it. What did Trump do today?

VALERIE VOLCOVICI: Well, what Trump did today is, first of all, it invited Canada to reapply. TransCanada is the company that wants to get it built. As far as I’m aware, TransCanada has said it wants to reapply.

And then it will have the State Department. They will do an environmental impact assessment of the permit and decide whether or not to issue it. And it needs to be done within 60 days.

So, again, another sign that Trump wants to fast-track this, because, as we remember from the Keystone fights, it lasted a long time and kind of became a symbol of President Obama’s environmental goals and it really also galvanized the environmentalists.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, these orders don’t guarantee that they will go forward. They just seemed to move the ball much closer to the goalposts, right?

VALERIE VOLCOVICI: Right, but this will be — you know, everything will be at the discretion of the various agencies involved.

And I guess one could assume that they would lean in favor, because now we have a different administration in. We can also expect to see legal challenges. The lawyer for the Standing Rock Tribe said that they’re going to be focusing on the legal battles. They are going to be in court.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: President Trump has said all along that this is about jobs primarily. Do we have a sense of how many jobs these two pipelines would generate?

VALERIE VOLCOVICI: He said this morning when he was announcing these orders that the Keystone pipeline would create 28,000 jobs. Previous assessments of the pipeline said that really the permanent jobs created are maybe a little more than a dozen or two dozen jobs.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Two dozen jobs?

VALERIE VOLCOVICI: Yes.

So, the numbers cited are always in conflict. They are always very much contested, when you look at the permanent jobs and the temporary jobs. And I think that environmental groups will argue that, as far as these pipelines being job creators, in the long term, not so much, because the permanent jobs are just much fewer than the temporary jobs.

But we saw President Trump yesterday met with labor union representatives, very strong proponents of both these pipeline projects, and they were very, very happy after their meeting with President Trump yesterday. And one of the labor leaders today said, you know, we’re really excited to see, you know, he’s not all talk, he’s action.

And they were very happy to see it early on.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: There were a few other executive orders that the president issued today that also pertained to this. What were these about?

VALERIE VOLCOVICI: So, these orders were kind of more generally talking about the overall process of approving these pipeline projects and different infrastructure projects.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, speeding the process along?

VALERIE VOLCOVICI: Speeding the process.

And a very interesting addition is that a pipeline project should use American steel, American labor. So, using some of Trump’s America-first energy and broader policy, that’s kind of injected into his approach to pipelines and infrastructure.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: More broadly, I know you have studied the Obama administration’s environmental policy and then the emerging Trump administration’s policy. How do these pipeline projects fit into that larger vision, as you see it?

VALERIE VOLCOVICI: Well, candidate Trump made it very clear what he wants to see.

He has seen President Obama — former President Obama’s environmental regulations as something that’s choking the U.S. economy, that’s preventing jobs from being created.

Former President Obama didn’t really see that they were an impediment to job creation. And he liked to highlight that U.S. emissions went down as the economy grew.

So, Trump’s vision is very different. He sees an all-of-the-above energy strategy, with a very heavy focus on fossil fuels. He sees that as really a way to create this American renaissance in manufacturing and in, you know, those good old blue-collar jobs that he was really talking about very much on the campaign trail.

So, for him, it’s part of his economic vision. The environmental gains of the Obama administration were seen as an impediment to those goals.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Valerie Volcovici of Reuters, thank you very much.

VALERIE VOLCOVICI: Thank you.

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