Tony Clark served as a Commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from 2012-2016. He is a former Chairman of the North Dakota Public Service Commission and a former President of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.
The end of the Obama Administration was likely met with a sigh of relief from the nation's pipeline industry. While significant projects were successfully constructed during those eight years, a concerning trend had emerged. Every so often, a proposed pipeline would pique the ire of the environmental left and thus be handled irregularly by the Administration.
So, while the Keystone pipeline had been sited under regular order, the substantially similar Keystone XL became the cause célèbre of activists with close White House ties. Its authorization dragged on for the better part of a decade before being denied.
Certain natural gas pipelines received relatively little negative scrutiny, while other similarly situated projects might elicit blowback from one or another EPA regional office.
Hundreds of miles of pipelines might be constructed in an orderly fashion. But the Administration then allowed a debacle to ensue, as it did with its handling of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
By the end of the Obama years, the formerly stable legal and regulatory procedures that had governed the siting of critical infrastructure for decades had devolved into a sort of regulatory Russian roulette. Every project was always just one politically connected activist away from regulatory calamity.
And then November 2016 happened.