Trump approves controversial pipelines in his latest Obama reversal
Donald Trump signed executive actions to push ahead with two controversial oil pipelines and promised to curb regulations on US industry yesterday, saying that environmentalism had grown "out of control".
The US president also reportedly banned all employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from discussing their work on social media or with the press as he seeks to unwind steps taken by Barack Obama on the environment.
At a meeting with automotive executives, Mr Trump said that he was personally "to a large extent an environmentalist" but that regulations were hampering the economy.
"Our friends that want to build in the United States, they go many, many years and then they can't get the environmental permit over something that nobody ever heard of before," he said. "It's absolutely crazy."
"I believe in it," Mr Trump said of protecting the environment, "but it's out of control".
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, also expanded on Mr Trump's statements that he believed three to five million illegal immigrants had cast fraudulent votes during the election, denying him the popular vote. "The president does believe there was voter fraud," he said. "He continues to maintain that belief based on studies and evidence presented to him."
Election officials have not reported any cases of widespread fraud.
Mr Trump's comments on the popular vote were similar to claims he made on Twitter in late November that he had won the electoral college in a "landslide" and also "won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally".
The announcement that the Keystone and Dakota Access oil pipeline projects would move forward was met with horror from environmental activists, who counted the stalling of construction on both projects under the Obama administration as a victory.
Protesters had gathered for months at the Standing Rock Indian reservation in North Dakota to protest against the Dakota pipeline, with environmental activists joining Native Americans who said the pipeline would desecrate sacred lands. Federal officials denied the permits needed to complete the project in December.
Mr Trump said that the projects would bring "a lot of jobs", particularly because he would insist that the pipelines be built with US-made steel.
Bernie Sanders, the senator and former presidential candidate, was one of many on the Left to vehemently object to the announcement.
"Today, President Trump ignored the voices of millions of people and put the short-term profits of the fossil fuel industry ahead of the future of our planet," he said.
Mr Trump also signed another order to expedite environmental reviews to allow for prompt approvals on construction projects. "We can't be in an environmental process for 15 years if a bridge is going to be falling down or a highway is crumbling," he said.
Mr Trump was an outspoken critic of environmental regulations during the presidential campaign. He has more recently emphasised the importance of keeping America's water and air clean, but wants to ramp up oil production.
Mr Trump also plans to scrap Mr Obama's landmark move in 2015 to cap greenhouse gas emissions.
The apparent gag order on the EPA was perhaps the most surprising step taken yesterday, and came after Mr Trump nominated Scott Pruitt, a prominent opponent of environmental regulations, to run the agency.
The new US president also announced that he plans to nominate a justice for the Supreme Court next week, moving swiftly to try to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. (Daily Telegraph, London)