Trump Vows to Speed Energy Projects as Obama Halts Pipeline

(Bloomberg) -- Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump vowed to speed the government’s approval of energy infrastructure projects -- after the Obama administration moved to stall an oil pipeline in the Dakotas that has drawn protests.

He also promised to rescind a bevy of Obama administration environmental regulations in remarks to the Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh, a summit representing natural gas producers.

"We will streamline the permitting process for all energy infrastructure projects, including the billions of dollars in projects held up by President Obama -– creating countless more jobs in the process," Trump said.

The Army Corps of Engineers said earlier this month it would not allow construction of Energy Transfer Partners LP’s Dakota Access pipeline on federal land in North Dakota and South Dakota while it considers permits for part of the project. Native American groups had protested its construction, saying it would damage sacred land.

Regulatory Regime

Trump portrayed his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton as having policies that would expand Obama’s regulatory regime, making it harder to build the pipelines, export facilities and other projects he said are "needed to move our energy resources to market." Right now, he said, billions of dollars in projects are tied up in "regulatory limbo."

Trump made the remarks in a city with voters that are crucial to his effort to win the state and its 71 delegates. The economy surrounding Pittsburgh and the southwestern portion of the state are rooted in oil, coal and gas production.

Polls suggest that Clinton still has a significant lead in Pennsylvania, with Trump trailing by 9 percentage points, according to the latest Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll taken between Sept. 12 through Sept. 16. Trump will spend the rest of Thursday campaigning in Philadelphia’s battleground suburbs, while also attending a fundraiser in Philadelphia.

Bloomberg Intelligence: Clinton Policies May Boost Natural Gas Demand

Trump’s comments, ironically, were being delivered to the very industry that is driving much of coal’s downturn. The surge in natural gas production has made it not only cleaner but cheaper than coal. Utilities have responded by shuttering coal-fired power plants and switching to gas.

Trump’s promises to streamline energy production and infrastructure also came in a city that has had a ban on fracking since 2010 -- illustrating the limits of the president’s power.

But Trump’s focus on the barriers to building infrastructure found a receptive audience in the drillers, service companies and pipeline developers listening to his presentation Thursday.

When energy dollars aren’t invested in the U.S., that money -- and the jobs and energy production that come from it -- are forfeited to other countries that have lower environmental standards, Trump said.

Calling for an "America first energy plan," Trump highlighted his plans to revive the coal sector in the heart of western Pennsylvania, where miners have been laid off amid an industry downturn.

1,500 Attendees

"I’m going to lift the restrictions on American energy and allow this wealth to pour into our communities including right here in the state of Pennsylvania," Trump said to applause, while reading from a teleprompter to a crowd about 1,500 conference attendees inside a Pittsburgh conference hall. "We will end the war on coal and on miners."

Energy producers in the area fret about persistently low natural gas prices in the region as production overwhelms the capacity of pipelines to ferry it to other markets. And proposed pipelines to get the gas out have run into opposition from local landowners and environmentalists, with the prospect of delays and cancellations, even after federal regulators have signed off.

Williams Partners LP’s proposed Constitution pipeline to carry Marcellus Shale gas to New England has been stalled in New York, where regulators are requiring permits connected to the project’s impacts on wetlands and have denied a separate water quality permit. The state decisions came after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission certified the project; developers are challenging both decisions in federal court.

Environmentalists Respond

Greenpeace USA spokeswoman Cassady Sharp accused Trump of pandering to industry, by "singing the praises of a dangerous energy extraction process that threatens the health and safety of families and communities all over this country and promising to slash critical regulations and the EPA."

Trump reiterated a previous promise to rescind a Department of Interior moratorium on new leasing of federal coal reserves, and he vowed to conduct "a top-down review of all anti-coal regulations issued by the Obama administration."

He also capitalized again on a gaffe by Clinton in March, when she said "we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of work" while describing plans to help the people who "labored in mines for generations" to "turn on our lights and power our factories."