To my shame, I’ve never had much more than a tenuous grasp on what presidents can or can’t do. Which is why I was confused about the executive orders signed by Trump regarding the Keystone XL and Dakota pipelines. Can he just make these projects happen with the stroke of a pen? Thankfully, at this point, the answer is no.

For the Dakota pipeline he’s merely requesting the Army Corps of Engineers to hurry the fuck up and approve it. From The Atlantic

[T]he executive orders seemed to be written in a typical way. Instead of commanding agencies to ignore congressionally passed law, the orders request that they expedite or reconsider previous judgments. “Executive orders are legal orders—they’re law—but they can’t contravene legislative enactments. So an executive order can’t say, ‘Ignore the (National Environmental Policy Act) and give me a pipeline,’” [Sarah Krakoff, a professor of tribal and resources law at the University of Colorado Boulder] told me.

“If the federal law gives decision-making authority to a particular official, that official has to make the decision,” said John Leshy, a professor of real property law and a former general counsel to the U.S. Department of the Interior. “But there’s some murkiness about what the president can do. The decision maker can say no, and then the president can fire them and replace them with someone who would. But that takes time.”

Krakoff added that it would attract judicial suspicion if the Army Corps of Engineers suddenly decided that it didn’t have to make an environmental-impact statement for the Dakota Access pipeline after saying that it did just weeks ago.

“It would be hard for them to turn around on a dime and say, ‘We got this piece of paper from the president and now we don’t think that’s necessary,’” she said. “If the agency were to take a different route, legally, now, I would strongly suspect that that would be subject to litigation.”

There is less in the way of getting the Keystone XL pipeline off the ground. Ominously, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (isn’t he supposed to be a totally cool and awesome liberal heartthrob???) is welcoming the opportunity for TransCanada to re-submit its application:

Canadian diplomats had spent years attempting to convince Obama to let Keystone proceed. Trump’s decision was applauded by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

“I’ve been on the record for many years supporting it because it means economic growth and good jobs for Albertans,” Trudeau said at a Liberal cabinet retreat in Calgary.

To sum up where we are now in regards to the pipelines, (again, from The Atlantic article):

Experts seemed to think the Keystone XL pipeline would be easier to restart, at least from a legal perspective. The obstacles to that pipeline originated in the federal government and not an ongoing legal challenge. But in a way, that highlights the paradox of the two pipelines: While it may be easier to restart Keystone XL legally, none of that project is built, and there’s no guarantee that it ever will be. The Dakota Access pipeline, meanwhile, sits idle at 80-percent completion. It is closer to being done. It also has, legally, much further to go.

Our primary hope appears to be sweet, sweet labyrinthine bureaucracy, as well as the fact that not all executive orders yield their desired results. The Atlantic article notes this and concludes with an outline of Obama’s inability to follow through on his 2009 executive order to close Guantanamo. It would be obscene and demoralizing if Trump’s authoritarian bullying succeeds in attaining environmentally destructive goals, while Obama’s eloquence and diplomacy failed to achieve his comparatively noble mission to close an ongoing human rights disaster.


  1. Siobhan says

    Commentary from a Canuck: Our Liberal party is as Conservative as it needs to be to get reelected. Once you understand this Trudeau’s many contradictions make sense.

  2. militantagnostic says

    To follow up on #1 Much the same goes for Alberta’s Rachel Notley who is governing from between a rock and a hard place. She has implemented a carbon tax that will probably cost her votes and is stuck with an economy heavily dependent on oil and gas (as am I) due to decades of increasingly less Progressive and more Conservative PC premiers. The assumption that the fossil fuel party would never end is coming back to bite us in the butt.

  3. rietpluim says

    In The Netherlands, the party that calls itself liberal is in fact quite conservative. In practice most social-democrats are much more liberal than the so called liberals are.

    On topic: it’s a bit of a relief that Trump did not just re-enable the building of the pipe lines. I wonder where this leads and what side will win eventually. Hope for the best.

    • says

      It looks like he can’t just force the pipelines to be built. I think all of us are in for some education in regards to what presidents can and can’t do. As another example, in regards to cutting funding for sanctuary cities:

      “Peter L. Markowitz, the director of the Immigration Justice Clinic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York said that making the kind of sweeping budget cuts to cities as proposed by Trump in his executive orders would be difficult to execute. ‘The rhetoric doesn’t match the legal authority,’ he said. ‘In fact, the president has very limited power to exercise any kind of significant defunding.'”

      It’s going to be terrifying if he’s able to exert his domination to accomplish things he legally shouldn’t be able to.

  4. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    outline of Obama’s inability to follow through on his 2009 executive order to close Guantanamo.

    If Obama really wanted to, he could. He simply chose not to. Simply issue a blanket pardon for all inmates at Gitmo for any and all crimes that they might have committed against the United States. Then, personally offer sponsorship for US visas.

    In that situation, I would have used that as a threat to get it done more properly, and if I as president couldn’t get it done through “more proper” channels, then I would have gone with the pardon approach.

    Right around here, I would also collect their testimony to start prosecuting every single fucker involved with various forms of torture, but that’s a story for another rant.