Energy Blog

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US Chamber of Commerce Blog

Sean Hackbarth Protesters march against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Minneapolis, Minn.Protesters march against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Minneapolis, Minn.Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) launched a series of protests across the country.

Driven by “Keep it in the ground,” anti-energy extremists like Bill McKibben, this “Day of Action” included blocking railroad tracks, spray paint vandalism, reports of tires slashed, and arrests in North Dakota and elsewhere.

It’s ironic, because protesters have witnessed much federal inaction.

The latest happened on Monday, when the Army Corps of Engineers refused to issue an easement to Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, to dig under the Missouri River in North Dakota. The Corps said it needs to take more time for “additional discussion” with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Meaning, protesters who had years to make their case, as even a federal judge noted—get to delay the project further.

This despite pipeline owners following the rules and the Corps signing off on most of the project in July.

In its letter to Energy Transfer Partners announcing the delay, the Corps notes it “concluded that its previous decisions comported with legal requirements” [emphasis mine]. The rules were followed. 

But if that's the case, what's there left to legally consider? If the project passed muster--and it did, or it wouldn't have been permitted in July--then why is the Corps delaying this project to consider other issues?

It's politics. The Obama administration continues to placate the "Keep it in the ground" folks. It's a disturbing pattern we first saw when the Keystone XL pipeline was rejected

The most instructive sign here is the one that says Keep It In the Ground. Don't be fooled into thinking #NoDAPL is about anything else. https://t.co/ACDqveIo5n

— Steve Everley (@saeverley) November 15, 2016

As I wrote a few weeks ago when President Barack Obama said the Corps was looking at ways to re-route the pipeline:

The pipeline’s builders, Energy Transfer Partners, did what they were supposed to do: They worked with state and federal regulators, applied for the appropriate permits, held local hearings with people concerned about the project—including Native American tribes—and spent years making adjustments to the pipeline’s route after hearing concerns—140 times in North Dakota alone(!) to preserve cultural sites and minimize environmental harm.

After following the rules, all state and federal permits were acquired (including from the Army Corps of Engineers). Energy Transfer Partners was awaiting a final easement from the Army Corp to go under the Missouri River, so building started.

We’re more than three-quarters through the game and President Obama thinks it’s ok to pull a Lucy and yank the football away from billions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs by changing the rules of the game. We’re long past the point of no return for a project that went by the book.

Mollifying opponents of the rule of law will only inspire more lawlessness.

“The more that the administration appeases protestors who are interfering with legal activity, the more they will embolden future protests to disrupt our economy,” said Karen Harbert, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy.  “One clear message from election day is that the American people want programs and policies that will put them back to work, not endless studies and delay.”

Labor unions concurred that agency inaction simply encourages anti-energy extremists. The Corps’ decision "will only further enflame protesters who have no regard for the rule of law, and will continue to intimidate workers, threaten acts of violence, and resist lawful removal by police,” Chad Carter of IUOE Local 234 in North Dakota said. “This decision undermining of the regulatory review process represents a threat to the future of infrastructure projects, and the future of American jobs for years to come."

“Death by delay” will prevent economic growth in #DAPL states. Say #YesDAPL & RT if you agree! @WashingtonPost https://t.co/er6A3iS67K

— Energy Institute (@Energy21) November 15, 2016

Energy Transfer Partners filed suit in Washington, D.C., to force the Corps to allow construction under the river.

And if the delay extends until 2017, it’s expected President-Elect Donald Trump’s administration would allow the project to be completed.

With the need for improving America’s energy infrastructure growing, senseless delays like this when companies follow the rules will only hold back the economic progress Americans crave. The incoming administration should respect the rule of law and ensure that needed infrastructure projects are permitted in a timely manner.

Blair Latoff Holmes Photo credit: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

Once voters have spoken on Tuesday, the U.S. Chamber will move quickly to work productively with the country’s new and reelected leaders, regardless of party.  We’ll support them when we agree, find common ground wherever we can, and always stand on principle and speak up when we believe they are wrong.

No matter who is elected, the number one domestic priority has to be economic growth. The next president is going to have a huge economic and mounting fiscal challenge due to exploding entitlement costs. The business community understands political necessities, and when the dust settles on all the campaign rhetoric, we’ll work to advance realistic policies that can get America growing again.

No matter who is elected, the number one domestic priority has to be economic growth.

Throughout this election, the Chamber has been urging our leaders to get back to business—the business of spurring our economy, creating jobs, and spreading opportunity far and wide. Last November, we launched our “Dear 45” campaign, a series of letters that lay out the business community’s priorities for the next president.

Setting the Agenda

The Chamber’s first Dear 45 letter introduced the issues that are most important to employers, executives and entrepreneurs. These ideas include bipartisan proposals for streamlining and improving our nation’s unruly regulatory system and paving the way for more exports of American goods around the world. American businesses also need a president who will stand up for their interests in foreign countries, helping to protect their investments and intellectual property.

On other important issues, the president will need to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Congress to address our country’s most important unfinished business, including modernizing our immigration rules while protecting our borders, addressing serious shortcomings in the health care reform law, cementing a long-term transportation and infrastructure plan, rewriting our tax code, and securing entitlement programs through reasonable, sustainable reforms.

The State of American Business

In his first letter to “45,” U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue wrote that while the state of American business in 2016 is filled with uncertainty, risks, and challenges, “we are optimistic about the future of our country….but a positive future will not happen automatically. We must work for it and earn it.”

He also outlined several priorities that the next president must focus on in order to grow the economy, create jobs, lift incomes, and expand opportunities for all Americans, including expanding trade, advancing our energy revolution, controlling regulations, reforming entitlement programs, revitalizing capital markets and simplifying the tax code.


Given the growing nature of cyber threats, securing our country’s increasingly critical cyber networks must be a top priority for the next administration. The Chamber embraces the government’s role in strengthening our nation’s cybersecurity and believe business can be a genuine partner in the fight against cybercrime.


While there is no silver bullet solution to cybersecurity, the next administration can make great strides towards better security and should begin by prioritizing three important issues including:

Building on the current momentum around the joint industry-National Institute of Standards and Technology Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity and encouraging federal agencies to harmonize existing regulations with the cyber framework. Improving our country’s information-sharing ecosystem so that cyber threat information sharing becomes so effective and efficient that once an attack is detected, every business should be protected against it by day’s end. Supporting policies that encourage greater adherence to international norms of acceptable behavior and deterrence in cyberspace and committing more resources to help law enforcement counter and mitigate cyber threats. Growing Our Economy

The American economy is struggling and America’s fiscal policy is on a disastrous trajectory, largely due to federal entitlement programs that cannot continue in their current form. Nowhere will presidential leadership be more needed, or more challenged, than in decisively addressing these twin problems. To address these issues, the next president should work to achieve regulatory reform, invest in our nation’s infrastructure, expand free trade, and reform the immigration system.

Comprehensive tax reform would also provide a big boost to the U.S. economy.  Reducing tax rates so that American workers and businesses can compete in the global economy is essential, as are having a competitive international tax system and proper cost recovery systems, among other things.

Meaningful entitlement reform must also be addressed by the next administration. Reforms in these programs will require leadership, cooperation with Congress, bipartisan collaboration, and a deep, ongoing conversation with the American people to explain the problems and the solutions.

There will be no bigger issue for the next president than restoring our economy to robust growth and restoring soundness to the nation’s finances.

Improving Education

If America is going to lead in the global economy, American businesses will need the best and brightest students in the world—students who can create, collaborate, communicate, and innovate. And America needs these students to be educated right here.

By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the economy will require some postsecondary training beyond high school. If we continue at our current pace, we will fall short by 5 million workers. We must strengthen U.S. education and job training by aligning these systems to the needs of our economy, and we need more people accessing postsecondary training in order to succeed in today’s workplace. Employers are also working to better coordinate and collaborate with those postsecondary institutions that can meet their hiring needs.

It will take strong leadership, innovation, and collaboration among education, business, and government to improve education, but Washington can lead by supporting programs that align workforce skills with labor market needs; expand support for dual- or concurrent-enrollment programming; integrate industry-recognized credentials; and increase support for work-based learning activities through innovation grants and state leadership activities.

Embracing Energy Abundance

America’s next president has an opportunity to put our country on a more practical and energy-productive path–one that first and foremost recognizes that we have transitioned from an era of energy scarcity to an era of energy abundance. America’s innovators have changed our energy fortunes for today and can do it for the future if government heavy handedness doesn’t crush that opportunity.

The next administration should embrace every form of energy. For instance, the next president should remove barriers to increasing our country’s production of oil, natural gas, and coal, enhance the competitiveness of nuclear and renewable energy sources, protect our energy infrastructure, and promote energy efficiency. We hope the next administration finds ways to improve all sources of energy, and make each of them more efficient and cost effective.

Financial Regulation

With Restarting the Growth Engine: A Plan to Reform America's Capital Markets, the Chamber’s Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness (CCMC) created an action plan with more than 100 recommendations that the next administration and Congress can follow to ensure our nation’s financial regulatory system enhances financial stability and fuels Main Street economic growth. 

To create the necessary changes to our nation’s capital markets system, policies the next administration can focus on include: creating a Presidential Commission on Financial Regulatory Restructuring; making the Financial Stability Board transparent and accountable; Federal Reserve regulatory reform; modernizing rule writing by requiring an examination of existing regulations before creating new ones; relief for small, medium and regional banks from enhanced regulations and systemic risk regulations to restore Main Street lending; tailor systemic risk regulation to the nonbank business model; and a special congressional bi-cameral committee to study the FinTech landscape.

You can view CCMC’s action plan here. For more perspective, President and CEO of the Credit Union National Association Jim Nussle wrote a letter on how one-size-fits-all financial regulation is harming consumers.

Defending Free Speech and Free Enterprise

Following a contentious and hard fought election, it will be important for the next administration to restore civility, and in order to do so we must get back to the basics – including reaffirming and strengthening our right to free speech and our system of free enterprise.

The next administration must show leadership in vigilantly opposing and guarding against attacks on free speech and recognizing and respecting everyone’s right to fully participate in the public and political affairs of our communities and our nation. The next administration must also reaffirm a commitment to free enterprise and the growth, jobs, and opportunities that it can deliver. Preserving and strengthening our free enterprise system is about more than just providing our citizens with a regular paycheck — it’s about promoting human dignity and working toward a greater purpose.

Improving Our Health Care System

In order to ensure our health care system remains the envy of many around the world, the next administration must double down on the elements of the system that have worked well for decades while mending those provisions of the Affordable Care Act that threaten to restrict access to quality care. It’s up to the next administration to focus on targeted, strategic changes that will make the law and our health care system more workable for all Americans.

That should start with fully and permanently eliminating provisions like the Cadillac Tax, which will lead to higher costs and less robust coverage options for employees. Similarly, the next administration should repeal provisions such as the health insurance tax and the medical device tax and same goes for Obamacare’s ban on stand-alone Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs). With these commonsense changes, we can remove some of the barriers that are obstructing access to affordable and high-quality health care for millions of American workers.

We also hope the next president helps renew our country’s focus on workplace wellness by structuring rules and regulations in such a way that support workplace wellness and chronic disease management programs, which have been shown to help control costs and improve health.

Prioritizing and protecting the employer-sponsored health care system should be at the heart of the next administration’s health care policies. It is the bedrock of our country’s insurance system, and it’s a system that works best when we err on the side of flexibility for employers rather than piling on onerous, heavy-handed rules and restrictions. Ideally, Obamacare (and more broadly our entire health care system) should encourage employers’ innovations, as well as their commitments to providing high-value coverage. This will lead to higher quality and more accessible and more affordable health care options.

Meaningful Immigration Reform

It would be impossible for the next administration to overlook the dysfunction in our nation’s immigration system. It needs meaningful reforms, as well as an administration that works with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to find commonsense solutions. 

To meaningfully address immigration reform, the next administration should focus on four core issues:

Ensure that the nation is safe and secure through defending homeland security and the rule of law. Modernize the immigration system to meet the demands of the current economy, which will spur job creation and economic growth. Update the employment verification system to reduce unauthorized employment. Address the 11 million people who are living in the US without authorization through a tough but fair immigration process with strict eligibility criteria.

True presidential leadership will be necessary in order to get commonsense immigration reforms moving again in Washington and ultimately signed into law. Additionally, following the attention that immigration has received during this election, the country will look to the administration to lead a meaningful and ongoing conversation with the American people moving forward.

Building State-of-the-Art Infrastructure

America has a long and impressive history of providing state-of-the-art infrastructure. However, our system is now in decline.

The next administration should ensure prompt implementation of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which increases federal surface transportation investment over the next five years and includes important reforms to the planning and approval process for transportation projects in order to reduce regulatory delays and utilize limited federal dollars in a more efficient manner.  Furthermore, the FAST Act dedicates funding for freight projects that will enhance our ability to compete in the global economy.

Our next president should also work to eliminate barriers to entry for private investment as a supplement – not a replacement – for public investment in infrastructure projects.

Finally, the next administration must work with Congress to find a long-term, sustainable funding source for surface transportation investment. Even with the passage of the FAST Act, our nation’s current level of investment in surface transportation is less than half of what is needed. Now is the time to show leadership in adjusting the federal gasoline user fee to keep pace with our growing needs.

Nurturing Innovation

Our nation’s future economic success and competitiveness will depend largely on a thriving and innovative technology sector. However, while technology seems to be advancing at a breakneck pace, policymakers at the state and federal level too often lag behind, missing the opportunity to spur additional economic growth and holding back American innovators.

Particularly in regards to artificial intelligence, drone technology, autonomous vehicles, wearable technologies, and the Internet of Things, we encourage the next administration to support policies that will allow all American businesses to compete and succeed in a dynamic global economy and continue to move the ball forward.

Additionally, we urge the next administration to stay the course and continue the work of the current administration in regards to open data. If your administration embraces smart policies, and the public and private sectors work together, American innovators and technological advances will help power our economy for decades to come.

Legal Reform

Our country’s strength draws in large part from its deep commitment to the rule of law and the legal system upon which it rests. However, lawsuit abuse drags down the entire economy. The next administration must address mounting issues such as the proliferation of “no injury” class action suits, as well as class actions brought under statutes with uncapped statutory damages. Additionally, it needs to reign in federal and enforcement agencies from attempting to drive an increase in class actions or “piling on” to single companies. It should also address criminal justice reform and abusive litigation over high-profile data security breaches.

Our country needs the next administration to return us to commonsense enforcement policies – ones that focus on cooperation and compliance and get us back to measured prosecutorial discretion. We hope the next administration will join us in thwarting those who try to abuse the system, undermine our right to due process, and in the process, stunt America’s economic growth.

Supporting Small Business

The next president must keep entrepreneurs in mind with everything they do in office. Small businesses need a president who strips away some of our federal government’s many onerous rules and regulations, not another administration that continues to add pages to the federal register at a record clip. They need a regulatory environment that allows them to spend more time running and expanding their firms and less time mired in red tape. To help small business, the next administration should support trade, and work constructively with Congress to address commonsense tax proposals and curb businesses’ skyrocketing health care costs.

The next president should understand that – whether it’s by creating new jobs or strengthening communities or fueling innovation – American businesses large and small have always been and will continue to be a big part of the solution to the challenges we face as a county.

Supporting Trade

One of the most effective tools the next president will have at his or her disposal is trade. Selling more American-made goods and services around the world is one of the best ways to spur economic growth, support small businesses, create good-paying American jobs, and keep the United States one step ahead of its international competitors. After all, 95 percent of the world’s consumers now live outside America’s borders, representing nearly limitless expansion opportunities for U.S. businesses and entrepreneurs.

It’s imperative that the next administration pursue pro-trade policies, starting with approval of two pending trade agreements, one with our partners across the Pacific and the second with our friends in Europe.

While chiefly important, those are hardly the only two opportunities the next president will have to expand trade and open new markets to American businesses. From our warming relationship with Cuba to our free trade agreements in Latin America to our increasingly strong relations with expanding countries in Africa and the Middle East, he or she will have opportunities to strengthen bilateral relationships in ways that will enable U.S. businesses to more easily reach new customers, grow their international presence, and create more jobs in the United States.

More broadly, it will be critical to pursue and negotiate trade and investment agreements that are fair, accountable, and economically sound; agreements that create a level playing field for U.S. companies, that put American workers and families first, and that benefit our country’s businesses and our country’s consumers alike.

Sean Hackbarth Screenshot from the 11/02/2016 President Obama interview with NowThis.President Barack Obama.Source: NowThis.

With a few words to a reporter, President Barack Obama just took the rule of law, crumpled it up, and tossed along a riverbank in North Dakota.

Here’s what he told NowThis about the recent actions by his administration and the protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline:

I think, right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline. So we are going to let it play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved.

This was “resolved” months ago, after state and federal agencies signed off on the project.

EXCLUSIVE: @POTUS tells NowThis that Army Corps are considering ways to 're-route' Dakota Access Pipeline pic.twitter.com/vEbXb8guvG

— NowThis (@nowthisnews) November 2, 2016

The point of the rule of law is to protect rights by having a known, understandable, and certain process.

The pipeline’s builders, Energy Transfer Partners, did what they were supposed to do: They worked with state and federal regulators, applied for the appropriate permits, held local hearings with people concerned about the project—including Native American tribes—and spent years making adjustments to the pipeline’s route after hearing concerns—140 times in North Dakota alone(!) to preserve cultural sites and minimize environmental harm.

After following the rules, all state and federal permits were acquired (including from the Army Corps of Engineers). Energy Transfer Partners was awaiting a final easement from the Army Corp to go under the Missouri River, so building started.

Only then did anti-energy extremists rile up people to protest the pipeline by setting up camp near its construction, chaining themselves to equipment, and regularly confronting law enforcement, security guards, and construction workers.

We’re more than three-quarters through the game and President Obama thinks it’s ok to pull a Lucy and yank the football away from billions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs by changing the rules of the game. We’re long past the point of no return for a project that went by the book.

For reaction to the president’s comments, here’s Rob Port, a North Dakota blogger who has been covering the story for months:

It’s worth keeping in mind that almost the entirety of this pipeline traverses private land. “In fact, DAPL needs almost no federal permitting of any kind because 99% of its route traverses private land,” Obama-appointed federal judge James Boasberg wrote in his September opinion rejecting arguments against the pipeline from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

It’s actually more than 99 percent. It’s like 99.8 percent. Just 0.2 percent of this pipeline is on federal land.

But Obama, apparently, thinks that 0.2 percent gives the federal government the authority to re-route the 99.8 percent of the pipeline on private property.

Pipeline supporters also weighed in.

“While a reroute sounds simple enough, it is in fact incredibly difficult, time intensive, costly and may actually be impossible,” said Craig Stevens, spokesman for the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now. “It would require new easements, new environmental and cultural studies, and hundreds of millions in additional costs.”


Stevens added, it also puts future energy infrastructure projects as risk: “It would send the signal to other companies seeking to invest in the U.S. infrastructure that the country is closed for business. Because no company would invest the billions of dollars necessary to complete the already time-consuming and onerous regulatory process only to be subject to a re-review in the latter stages of construction and shut down.”

This is an important point. Over the next few years we’ll need all types of energy infrastructure. Renewable energy supporters should be worried at Obama’s words and actions. It’s not just about oil and natural gas infrastructure. Long-haul electrical transmission lines require similar permitting and public comment periods as pipelines. Often, they run into local objections.

When federal agencies upend the results of a fair regulatory process, everyone suffers.

Under this Obama administration precedent, a transmission line supplying customers with electricity from solar or wind that made it through the permitting process could be “rerouted” by presidential decree.

Don’t expect reliable energy supplies in that kind of environment. It doesn’t matter how much energy abundance you have, if you can’t get it to where consumers can use it—which is exactly the point of the extremist protesters. “There's no reroute that doesn't involve the same risks to water and climate,” Sara Shor, 350.org’s Keep It in the Ground campaign manager is quoted by The Hill.

Back to the rule of law. A letter from 22 pro-energy groups last month to the administration, including the Institute for 21st Century Energy, cited John Adams who wrote the United States is a “government of laws, not of men.” The letter continues:

This North Dakota project has complied with the procedures laid out in law, engaged in more than two years of federal review and has received the necessary federal approvals.

The previous decisions now being “reconsidered” were properly considered and made through a fair and thorough process on which the company and others are entitled to rely. In our “nation of laws,” when an established legal process is complete, it is just that—complete.

When your agencies upend or modify the results of a full and fair regulatory process for an infrastructure project, these actions do not merely impact a single company. The industries that manufacture and develop the infrastructure, the labor that builds it, and the American consumers that depend on it all suffer.

The AFL-CIO also understands the importance of abiding by a fair and certain process:

We believe that community involvement in decisions about constructing and locating pipelines is important and necessary, particularly in sensitive situations like those involving places of significance to Native Americans. However, once these processes have been completed, it is fundamentally unfair to hold union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay. 

Along with damaging the rule of the law, with his words, the president has emboldened extremists like Bill McKibben who reject all fossil fuels use and pour fire on an already volatile situation.

In North Dakota, cars have been burned, explosive projectiles have been launched, shots have been fired, and hundreds of people have been arrested. (92% arrested have been from out of state, according to the National Sheriff’s Association.) Along the pipeline’s route in Iowa, millions of dollars of construction equipment has been destroyed.

This is chaos, and it could continue for “several more weeks.”

The Dakota Access Pipeline has been unnecessarily politiziced. Unfortunately, the president's words and actions have only made things worse.