White House proposes expediting new pipelines under Namekagon River, other national parks

President Trump’s infrastructure proposal includes giving Interior Secretary sole authority to approve pipelines crossing National Parks.




3 minute read

Namekagon River. (Greg Seitz, St. Croix 360)

A proposal from President Donald Trump would make it easier to allow a new pipeline crossing under the Namekagon River, the St. Croix’s largest tributary and part of the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway.

Since 1920, new pipeline crossings of National Park Service lands and waters have required an act of Congress for approval. The Trump administration is seeking to let the Secretary of the Interior make those decisions.

Four Enbridge pipelines currently cross under the Namekagon near Stinnet Landing, in a right-of-way that predates the creation of the National Park.

The company’s leadership has expressed interest in adding another pipeline to the corridor, but because the existing right-of-way does not have room for another pipeline, Enbridge might need to acquire a new easement.

Accelerating approval

The Namekagon and the National Park Service could be a major impediment to a new pipeline. While the Wisconsin legislature has made it easier for Enbridge to use eminent domain to acquire lands it needs for pipelines, the Namekagon River crossing remains protected by federal law.

President Trump

But not if the White House gets what they want.

On page 47 of the new infrastructure plan (PDF) sent to Congress yesterday, the administration stated the goal of “authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to review and approve permits for pipelines crossing lands administered by the National Parks Service.”

It says the change would reduce delays and uncertainties for the industry.

In remarks about the plan on Monday, Trump pointed to unspecified development projects that he said have been waiting for 25 years for federal permits, and touted his fast action to approve the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines after taking office.

An earlier draft of the infrastructure plan only included natural gas pipelines in the proposed change, but the final proposal, while the wording is confusing, seems to include oil pipelines.

‘Actively working to undermine our national parks’

National Park advocates blasted the plan, saying it cuts National Parks budgets, while funding repair and infrastructure projects with oil and gas drilling on these public lands.

John Garder

“The president’s budget proposal once again demonstrates that the administration is actively working to undermine our national parks and the environment on which they depend,” said John Garder of the National Parks Conservation Association. “Caring for our parks means not only fixing their roads and buildings, but also protecting their air, water, wildlife and surrounding landscapes.”

The infrastructure plan also includes significant cuts to environmental protections across the country, including regulations meant to protect clean, air, water and special places. Trump is also seeking to cut the Interior Department budget by 16 percent.

The lead oil industry lobbying organization, the American Petroleum Institute, released a statement celebrating the infrastructure plan. Enbridge is a member of the organization.

“Efforts announced today to promote certainty in the permitting process that is driven by sound science are critical to ensuring that Americans can continue to benefit from increased production and use of the energy they demand every day,” said President and CEO Jack Gerard.

Missed opportunity

Some environmental advocates said improvements to the permitting process are needed, but that the Trump proposal doesn’t do that.

Keith Benes, an environmental consultant and State Department attorney-adviser involved with Keystone XL pipeline permitting, told the Chicago Tribune that the proposal addresses problems in the current system. But, he said it almost universally eliminates legal requirements, instead of trying to fix them.

“It’s not, ‘Let’s streamline it or make it more effective,” Benes said. “‘It’s just, ‘Let’s get rid of that.’”

If the Trump proposal prevails, it would take decisions about pipelines across National Parks away from a large body of elected officials and give it to one person appointed by the president.

The path forward for the proposal is uncertain. The infrastructure plan is essentially a “wish list” from the White House, laying out its priorities. No legislation has been introduced to enact the proposal yet.