President Trump is poised to sign two executive orders Wednesday intended to advance energy infrastructure development, including one calling for new guidance on state water quality reviews and a second aimed at shifting approvals of crossborder oil pipelines from the State Department to the president.
The first broad order targets an important sticking point for some natural gas projects, particularly in the Northeast, and also brings together a variety of other, mostly smaller steps to help infrastructure reviews and investments.
Amid a major pipeline buildout to move Appalachian Shale gas to market, some 20.1 Bcf/d of Northeast natural gas production takeaway projects have entered service between 2015 and 2018, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. But some Northeast projects have stalled over state permit denials or delays under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, and other legal challenges from environmental groups.
Just how far an executive order can go to alleviate such hurdles under existing law has been questioned in the run-up to the release of the executive order.
“Outdated federal guidance and regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency have caused confusion and uncertainty, leading to project delays, lost jobs and reduced economic performance,” a senior administration official said in a press briefing late Thursday on the orders. The order would call for a review and update of an EPA interim guidance from 2010, as well as for an update of EPA enabling regulations the predate CWA Section 401.Natural gas interests have sought guidance to keep state reviews from dragging out, accusing some states like New York of gaming the process, and they have sought guardrails around what states can consider in making water quality determinations.
The second executive order would curb the State Department’s role in reviewing presidential crossborder permits for pipelines and other infrastructure and instead clarify that the decision to approve or deny will be made solely by the president, the senior administration official said.
The secretary of state would be directed to adopt procedures to complete the process of soliciting information from participating agencies within 60 days of receiving an application. Reviews by FERC of crossborder natural gas projects and by the Department of Energy for crossborder electric transmission would be exempted from the order, which also covers water and transportation projects.
Among other smaller steps included in the first order are a call for the Department of Transportation to update LNG safety regulations to reflect modern technology, and best industry practices on the ground that existing rules developed for small peak shaving facilities 40 years ago are not well suited for large-scale export or import facilities, the official said. DOT would also be tasked with proposing a rule to treat LNG the same as other cryogenic liquids to allow permitting in approved rail tank cars.
On electric transmission, the order would call for development of a master agreement for right-of-way renewals and reauthorizations to expedite the renewal process and facilitate vegetation management.
Also targeted are growing environment, safety and governance investor initiatives. The order would require a study whether ESG initiatives that some investment fund managers are pursuing are consistent with statutory requirements to protect interests of beneficiaries, and a review of existing guidance.
DOT and DOE are further tasked with studying economic effects of the inability to ship natural gas and other energy resources to New England, as well as effects of limitations on moving gas, oil and other resources through the US West Coast.