Federal Judge Blocks Trump’s Plan to Open Up Arctic and Atlantic Oceans to Drilling
An Alaska federal judge declared President Trump’s order to revoke an Obama-era ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans illegal. The decision last Friday halted Trump’s executive order, which would have freed 128 million acres of federal waters for drilling.
In April of 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order that rolled back restrictions that President Obama finalized only five months prior, in December of 2016. Obama used his executive authority to invoke the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act in an unprecedented scale, as previous presidents had only used it to temporarily protect smaller portions of federal waters.
Using the law, Obama withdrew regions of the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean from being leased for drilling. The Arctic Ocean and its coast are home to endangered species including polar bears and bowhead whales, and the region of the Atlantic Ocean that Obama withdrew was home to coral canyons.
Opponents of Obama’s environmental agenda said that Trump would quickly reverse the action, much like when President Bush reinstated rights to drill in ocean waters that his predecessor President Clinton protected using the same Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.
Trump did reverse Obama's agenda, but U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason ruled that the act doesn’t allow presidents to revoke withdrawals of land that a previous president made without congressional approval.
Gleason’s ruling would vastly limit the five-year plan the Trump administration plans to issue this year, which sets a schedule for lease sales for drilling off the coast of the United states. However, there are some parts of the Eastern Seaboard which were not covered by Obama’s withdrawal.
According to Forbes, even with Trump’s reversal, few energy companies expressed interest in drilling over the oceans because of the low prices of shale oil in North Dakota and Texas.
Gleason’s decision comes after a week of legal setbacks for Trump’s environmental agenda. Gleason also blocked a plan that would permit road construction through a National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Another U.S. District Judge, Lewis T. Babcock, ruled that two gas drilling plans in Colorado were approved illegally.
Gleason’s decision on the Arctic is expected to be appealed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.