Carper on Trump Energy Executive Orders: The President Cannot Ignore Congress or the Constitution

Carper blasts President Trump’s new executive orders that fly in the face of states’ clear legal authority to modify or deny federal permits for energy projects

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), lambasted President Trump’s sweeping executive orders that would undercut states’ rights to modify or deny permits and refuse certification of federal energy projects and shifts power to the executive branch to approve federal cross-border energy projects.

“The Trump Administration likes to tout that it supports cooperative federalism,” said Senator Carper. “However, the Administration contorts the definition of that term when it suits their purpose, and has, in the name of ‘cooperative federalism,’ left states helpless to address cross-state air pollution, weakened enforcement on polluters and cut funding for state programs. These executive orders are another bending of the definition of cooperative federalism that limits state authority. To be clear, the intent behind these executive orders is to render states powerless to ensure that permits for energy projects do not hurt their environment, economy and quality of life.

“I would ask Delawareans to imagine the prospect of our state being voiceless to review and challenge permits for a major energy project on the Delaware Bay threatening our thriving coast and our fishing and tourism economies. Back in the 1960s, Delaware lived that nightmare. Our state, lacking the protections Congress provided under section 401 of the Clean Water Act, was barely able to preserve its exceptionally beautiful and ecologically significant Delaware Bay marshes. Delaware’s struggles—reflective of the challenges facing many other states—prompted Congress to establish the critical section 401 state powers. The first executive order President Trump signed today flouts the clear legal authority set by Congress under the Clean Water Act, and I suspect it will soon see its day in federal court.


“The second executive order is also legally questionable. With the stroke of a pen, President Trump cannot simply empower President Trump to seize states’ authority to review and approve federal energy projects. This gross abuse of power in the name of ‘energy dominance’ is just as big a threat to states’ rights as it is to our environmental quality. While the rest of the world races to a clean energy future, the president can wax poetic about restoring our country’s energy dominance to the days of old. But the president cannot ignore the clear intention of Congress nor the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution.”

Yesterday, Senator Carper spoke to the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) and highlighted ways in which the Trump Administration has either ignored state’s environmental priorities or actively reduced the power of governors to protect their own air and water, despite the administration’s professed advocacy for cooperative federalism. In August 2018, the Senate on Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on this topic.