President Donald Trump signed executive orders to advance the construction of the controversial Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.
Mr Trump’s orders would turn over decisions made by Barack Obama to halt the construction of both projects. Mr Obama rejected the Keystone pipeline in November 2015. A year later, the US Army Corps of Engineers denied the permit to build the $3.8bn Dakota Access Pipeline amid months of protest outside the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.
The terms of the order would be subject to renegotiation between the US government and the companies involved.
The order related to the Dakota Access Pipeline is a major blow to activists, known as “water protectors”, who have staged demonstrations blocking the construction for months.
Lawyers for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe said Mr Trump’s action was done “hastily and irresponsibly”, and they will pursue legal action.
Senator Bernie Sanders quickly rebuked the action – a day after praising Mr Trump’s order to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership – and said he “will do everything I can to stop these pipelines”.
“President Trump ignored the voices of millions and put the short-term profits of the fossil fuel industry ahead of the future of our planet,” Mr Sanders said.
Environmental groups also promised significant action in response to Mr Trump’s decision to allow the pipelines’ construction.
“A powerful alliance of Indigenous communities, ranchers, farmers, and climate activists stopped the Keystone and the Dakota Access pipelines the first time around, and the same alliances will come together to stop them again if Trump tries to raise them from the dead,” said Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard said.
“Instead of pushing bogus claims about the potential of pipelines to create jobs, Trump should focus his efforts on the clean energy sector where America’s future lives.”
In a series of executive actions in his first full week in the White House, Mr Trump reversed some key policies of his predecessor, which includes the scrapping of Trans-Pacific trade agreement, an order to urge his administration to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, as well as the renewal of the “Global Gag Rule”, that bars US aid going to international family planning NGOs that even mention abortion.
Pushing through the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines would solidify Mr Trump’s deregulation of the domestic oil industry.
Earlier in the day, Mr Trump remarked to US automakers that he would ease environmental regulations.
“[Environmentalism is] out of control, and we're going to make a very short process,” he said, “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.”
Press Secretary Sean Spicer had already hinted that Mr Trump would allow the Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners to proceed with the project to complete the 1,172-mile pipeline.
“I’m not going to get in front of the President's executive actions,” Mr Spicer told reporters in the White House briefing room, “but I will tell you that areas like the Dakota and Keystone pipeline areas that we can increase jobs, increase economic grown, and tap into America's energy supply. That’s something that he’s been very clear about.”
He added that Mr Trump is “very, very keen in making sure we maximise use of our natural resources to America’s benefit”.
Mr Trump previously owned between $500,000 and $1m in shares of Energy Transfer Partners in 2015, according to campaign disclosures. After selling off much of his shares, he still holds between $15,000 and $50,000 stake in the company last summer.
The Trump campaign had denied that Mr Trump’s interest in Dakota Access Pipeline project had anything “to do with his personal investments and everything to do with promoting policies that benefit all Americans”.
Further complicating Mr Trump’s peripheral relationship with the project, his Energy Secretary pick – former Texas Gov Rick Perry – is a paid board member of Energy Transfer Partners.
TransCanada, the company in charge of the Keystone XL project, would have to reapply for permission to build the pipeline, but the company’s plans have already faced congressional review. Mr Obama ultimately rejected the project because he decided it “would not make a meaningful contribution to our economy”.
“Shipping dirtier crude oil into our country would not increase America’s energy security,” Mr Obama said, explaining that the pipeline would not boost US jobs. “What has increased America’s energy security is our strategy over the past several years to reduce our reliance on dirty fossil fuels from unstable parts of the world.”
He added: “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.”