by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Thomas Donlan devotes his Barron’s editorial commentary to the new president’s executive orders linked to oil pipelines.
Among the steps of political importance was the president’s signing of executive orders resurrecting the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil-pipeline projects. Both had been left for dead in the latter days of the Obama administration, which was responding to political protests.
Neither pipeline is indispensable to U.S. or Canadian economic interests. The lights will not go out in the U.S., nor will development of Albertan and North Dakotan oil reserves stumble to a halt if they are not finished. But they are important anyway.
The important symbol at stake is the rule of law and reason: How often can regulators go over the same ground? How long can they review a project without making a controversial decision? The course of politics never did run smoothly, but the goal of politics is to make decisions, not to avoid them.
Trump’s answer in these two cases is, “We’re going to make a very short process, and we’re going to either give you your permits, or we’re not going to give you your permits. And generally speaking, we’re going to be giving you your permits. So we’re going to be very friendly.”
He also published a general order to expedite “high priority” projects and to keep environmental reviews brief.
This new policy signals a welcome reduction in the law’s delay and the insolence of office, which have been growing features of the U.S. business climate for decades. But it may also bring more of American business under political constraint.
One advantage of regulation is often overlooked: Even the worst regulatory policies are published in the Federal Register and enforced with a considerable degree of national consistency. Government by executive order is something much different, and more dangerous.
Republicans were right to criticize former President Barack Obama’s executive shortcuts; they should treat those from Trump with the same suspicion.