February 06, 2020

Massachusetts Lawmakers Seek GAO Investigation of Trump Administration Decisions on Proposed Energy Projects

Regulators Have Expedited Fossil Fuel Projects While Delaying Renewable Energy Projects

Lawmakers Question Double Standard that Favors the Fossil Fuel Industry

Raise Concerns that Trump Administration Officials' Conflicts of Interest May Result in Favoritism

Text of Letter (PDF)

Boston, MA - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA), along with Representatives Richard E. Neal (D-MA-01), James P. McGovern (D-MA-02), William Keating (D-MA-09), Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-MA-04), Katherine M. Clark (D-MA-05), Seth Moulton (D-MA-06) and Lori Trahan (D-MA-03), requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of the Trump administration's evaluation and approval of fossil fuel and renewable energy projects. The lawmakers' letter raised concerns that there is a Trump administration "double standard at play" in which fossil fuel projects are expedited while renewable energy projects are delayed.

The Trump administration has sought -- in numerous ways -- to conduct expedited environmental reviews for fossil fuel infrastructure and other extractive industries and recently announced a proposal to narrow the scope of energy projects that would require review under the National Environmental Policy Act. This proposal follows other administration actions to expedite environmental reviews for fossil fuel projects such as oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. If successful, these efforts would speed up approval of new fossil fuel infrastructure projects at the expense of the environment and  health of frontline communities.

At the same time, the Trump administration appears to be seeking delays of renewable energy projects, with officials in the Department of the Interior recently ordering a sweeping environmental review of the burgeoning offshore wind industry-a move that threatens to derail this growing industry and have implications for similar planned projects.

"While we appreciate the importance of cumulative impact analyses for environmental reviews and studies and oppose the Trump administration's attempts to weaken environmental review processes, it would be troubling if the Trump administration is employing a double standard for environmental analysis that favors the fossil fuel industry," the lawmakers wrote in their letter.

The lawmakers also questioned whether conflicts of interest may play a role in this differential treatment, given senior Trump administration officials' longstanding ties to the fossil fuel industry, particularly officials in the agencies responsible for overseeing energy and environmental regulations.

"As the federal government continues to delay the American offshore wind industry, while seeking to ease environmental review requirements for fossil fuel infrastructure and other extractive industries, it is critical that lawmakers understand whether the Trump administration is fairly and objectively applying environmental review standards, or whether the administration has a double standard that favors the fossil fuel industry at the expense of renewable energy projects," the lawmakers continued.

To address their concerns, the lawmakers requested that the GAO examine which projects the Trump administration has sought to expedite and which projects it has sought to delay; whether the administration is reviewing fossil fuel and renewable energy projects differently; whether the ties of senior administration officials to the fossil fuel industry have influenced the administration's decision-making; and what changes should be implemented to ensure that review processes are fair and objective across industries.