(Written by Coral Davenport)
In a major legal blow to President Donald Trump’s push to expand offshore oil and gas development, a federal judge ruled that an executive order by Trump that lifted an Obama-era ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean and parts of the North Atlantic coast was unlawful.
The decision, by Judge Sharon L. Gleason of U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska, concluded late Friday that President Barack Obama’s 2015 and 2016 withdrawal from drilling of about 120 million acres of Arctic Ocean and about 3.8 million acres in the Atlantic “will remain in full force and effect unless and until revoked by Congress.” She wrote that an April 2017 executive order by Trump revoking the drilling ban “is unlawful, as it exceeded the president’s authority.”
The decision, which is expected to be appealed in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, immediately reinstates the drilling ban on most of the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska, a pristine region where oil companies have long sought to drill. Along the Atlantic coast, it blocks drilling around a series of coral canyons that run from Norfolk, Virginia, to the Canadian border.
Most immediately, the decision will force the Interior Department to withdraw the waters of the Arctic Ocean from its forthcoming plan detailing where the federal government intends to lease federal waters to oil companies for offshore drilling. A draft of that plan published last year called for drilling off the entire U.S. coastline.
Although Friday’s court decision relates specifically to a law on offshore drilling, it could also hamstring Trump’s efforts to erase or reduce the creation of large protected areas of public lands by previous presidents.
“The statutes and the Supreme Court have been silent on the authority of a president to modify or reduce a predecessor’s protections of these public lands, waters and monuments,” said Patrick Parenteau, a professor of environmental law at Vermont Law School. “But these decisions are showing that if a president wants to reverse a predecessor’s environmental policy, they have to give a cogent reason why.”
Parenteau predicted that the case was likely to reach the Supreme Court, though probably not for several years.