Politics & Policy

Trump’s Executive Orders Clear the Way for Energy Development

President Trump displays his pipeline executive order, January 24, 2017. (Reuters photo: Kevin Lamarque)

Democrats thrilled when President Obama vowed to govern by means of “a pen and a phone.” Now President Trump has inherited those instruments of communication and is putting them to excellent use clearing the way for the development of U.S. energy infrastructure.

The issue involves two important pipelines: The Keystone XL pipeline, which would run oil from Canadian tar sands to refineries on the Gulf coast, and the Dakota Access pipeline, which would connect the Bakken shale with petroleum facilities in Illinois. Keystone was locked up by bureaucratic opposition for years while the Obama administration pretended to think about approving it (in the end, it put a halt to the project), while the Dakota project was the subject of a briefer though no less intense effort to prevent its construction, with the Army Corps of Engineers calling off the original plan after protests and rioting from environmentalists and Indian tribes.

Trump’s executive orders would fast-track approval of both projects. The president also demands (with no obvious legal authority) that the projects be completed using steel manufactured in the United States.

Some political context is in order: The specific objections to Keystone and Dakota were never particularly persuasive, but they are, in the greater scheme of things, almost entirely beside the point: The environmentalist movement is dedicated to stopping all development of infrastructure for oil, natural gas, coal, and other ordinary sources of energy, categorically. The complaints about culturally sensitive Indian lands deployed against Dakota have also been drummed up as weapons against other projects, including coal-export depots on the West Coast, just as the arguments against Keystone have been used to prevent pipeline development in the rest of the country. When the pipelines are blocked, then the environmentalists fight against other means of transporting fuel, such as trains. If ExxonMobil were reduced to using pack animals to move barrels of oil between well and refinery, there would be an animal-rights case filed to stop it. The Left simply objects to the development of energy infrastructure per se. And that, politically, is what this is all about.

It is easy to make an economic fetish out of “Made in the U.S.A.,” and President Trump surely is guilty of doing so. But for a nation as blessed with energy resources as ours, with an economy as hungry for energy as ours, failing to allow for the development of the domestic energy industry would be beyond foolish — it would mean holding national prosperity hostage to a narrow ideological concern. The only path to abundance is abundance, which means production and investment in productive capital.

This is not a question of climate change: There is no credible or widely accepted model of climate change holding that any significant global outcome is dependent on marginal changes in U.S. domestic energy production of the sort that could be expected from the construction of new pipelines and refineries. Our progressive friends are great advocates of science and nuance until it comes time to build a pipeline, and then they retreat into John of Patmos mode, promising a fiery end awaits us in retribution for our indulgent and sinful ways.

We should be clear about the nature of the opposition to these projects and its the end goal, which is the cessation of all conventional energy infrastructure development and investment.

Which is to say, we should be clear about the nature of the opposition to these projects and its end goal, which is the cessation of all conventional energy infrastructure development and investment.

The Canadians of course understand this, and they are eager to connect their producers with U.S. refiners, which is why Keystone is, at the moment, a Trump-Trudeau project. That is something to keep in mind when the Democrats lament that this is a plot hatched by right-wing oilmen in Texas.

Moving forward on these and other projects means work and wages for those who build them and for those who work at the facilities on both ends of the pipelines. It means profits for producers, both domestically and in Canada — which is, bear in mind, our largest trading partner. It also means more abundant and more economical fuel, feed stock, and raw materials for industrial concerns at home and abroad, from plastics plants in China to chemical producers in Texas. When it comes to energy, more is more.

Of course there are environmental issues involved with the production, transportation, and consumption of oil and gas. We have been dealing with those for more than a century. There is nothing about these developments that should change how we go about doing that in an environmentally and economically responsible manner.

Unshackling our domestic energy industry is the right thing to do, and now — if not yesterday — is the right time to do it.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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