After his first week in office, President Donald Trump has signed a slew of directives aimed at undermining policies created under the Obama administration.
On Jan. 24, President Trump signed an executive memorandum backing the continued construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. He also signed an action that calls for the expedition of environment reviews.
A presidential memorandum differs from an executive order in terms of protocol. Orders must be numbered, published, and cited to include the authority they are based on. Meanwhile, this memorandum is closer to a strongly worded recommendation suggesting the Army Corps of Engineers reconsider their initial decision and grant the necessary construction permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline. The memorandum also suggested that the Keystone XL application be resubmitted for further review.
His administration has stated they would be open to renegotiating the terms of the pipelines, with a primary focus on domestic construction resources, rather than the pipeline’s’ impact. This act falls in line with his vow to ease regulations on oil companies and create new jobs. However, public opposition to these constructions, led by activist and Native American communities, has held a foothold in the area since October.
Originally sparking controversy in 2011, the potential pitfalls of the Keystone XL pipeline were environmental contamination and further commitment to America’s reliance on fossil fuel. Meanwhile, similar environmental concerns were shared with the Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as the added issue of the plans being built on Sioux territory. With no agreeable terms being reached by the government and protesters, both pipelines were scrapped.
Trump was quoted during a meeting with auto industry executives saying, “I am, to a large extent, an environmentalist, I believe in it. But it’s out of control, and we’re going to make it a very short process. And we’re going to either give you your permits, or we’re not going to give you your permits. But you’re going to know very quickly. And generally speaking, we’re going to be giving you your permits.”
An environmental review takes into account all the impacts of a proposed project, from the runoff of the construction materials to the potential of future decay and required maintenance. This is not something that can be analyzed in a short process.
With these new directives, activists have already begun to mobilize and prepare for the worst. Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law agency, will be representing the Sioux tribe and are ready to proceed with litigations if they view Trump’s action violate the constitutional rights of the environmental reviews or if he decides to cut the current ongoing environmental review ordered in December.
“Nothing in the Presidential Memorandum changes that or even addresses [the current environmental review],” lead attorney Jan Hasselman said in an email to CNN. “If the Corps responds to this directive by issuing the easement without the [Environmental Impact Statement] process, it will be violating the law and subjecting itself to additional litigation.”
Currently Earthjustice has no plans to take legal actions, as the memorandum does not force the Army Corps of Engineers to bypass the impact statement. It only asks them to review their decision.