The White House is weighing a new round of executive actions to boost the U.S. energy industry in an attempt to portray strength against Russia.
The moves the White House is considering — President Donald Trump’s third effort to help pipeline companies — include possible executive orders that would weaken states’ power to block energy projects and ease the construction of new pipelines to facilitate the movement of a glut of domestic oil and gas, according to a senior administration official and others familiar with the effort.
The administration official said the pipeline executive order would be “quite similar” to the president’s previous actions, but “broader, deeper.”
Trump has promoted energy as an economic and national security boon throughout his presidency. In recent weeks, he has amped up the energy-focused rhetoric, making the case in public and private that low oil and gasoline prices are a sign of the success of his policy agenda — and an indication that he isn’t a pawn of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“This is not only about economic growth and power. A lot of this is about international security policy. We’re aiming at the Russians. We can beat them,” the senior administration official told POLITICO.
But a series of executive orders is unlikely to muffle allegations that the president and his allies have kowtowed to Russia, especially with the prospect of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation hanging over the White House.
Any new executive orders, which could be part of a broader, long-delayed infrastructure plan, would likely draw pushback from Democrats like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as well as Republican state leaders who are wary of ceding power to protect their rivers and streams to the federal government. And experts say U.S. exports stand little chance of dislodging Moscow’s hold on key global markets.
Trump has pledged to drive “U.S. energy dominance” abroad, capitalizing on the decade-long surge in U.S. oil and gas production that has lifted output to record levels. The sector has remained a bright spot in an economy that experts say may be in danger of dipping into recession.
U.S. companies have opened the spigots on oil shipments since the ban on exports was lifted in 2015, and the U.S. has become one of the leading global shippers. But Russia’s oil output has also reached record levels, and its crude exports are second only to Saudi Arabia. Russia is also the world’s leading gas exporter, with a particularly strong position in Europe, which gets more than a third of its supplies from state-run Gazprom. The company notched record shipments to Europe last year and is banking on growing those volumes by 50 percent over the next decade, leveraging its position as the region’s low-cost producer.
“We are very interested in undermining Russia’s position with respect to energy in Europe,” the official said.
But despite heavy pressure from the Trump administration to block the planned Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany and diplomatic trips by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to Eastern Europe to push U.S. liquefied natural gas shipments, experts say the U.S. industry is likely to get only a modest share of the European market — and most U.S. companies are focused on higher-margin markets in Asia.