Energy & Environment

Trump administration appeals ruling that blocked offshore Arctic drilling

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The Interior Department is appealing a decision from an Alaska judge that blocked President Trump from rolling back offshore drilling protections for the Arctic that were put in place by President Obama.

With the Tuesday appeal, the department is fighting back against a decision that was the department’s impetus for pausing the development of its five-year offshore drilling plan for both Alaska and the Atlantic Coast.

{mosads}Interior Secretary David Bernhardt recently told Congress the March decision made it unwise to develop a drilling plan.

“I saw the litigation playing out and saw the court decision, and I wanted to hold off to figure out exactly the best pathway forward,” Bernhardt told the Senate Appropriations Committee last week, adding that Interior was still evaluating “the best litigation pathway and how that affects our plan.”

Interior would not comment on the case.

Obama barred offshore oil development in the Arctic in the last full month of his presidency. Trump issued an executive order just months later that attempted to revoke it, spurring a suit from a coalition of environmental groups.

Interior appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has struck down a number of other Trump executive orders, including the travel ban for citizens from a number of Muslim-majority countries and other immigration measures.

Erik Grafe, deputy managing attorney in the Earthjustice Alaska office, which has been fighting the case, said they would continue to battle the executive order. 

“The district court in Alaska ruled that President Trump overstepped his constitutional authority by purporting to strike down oceans protections that his predecessor put in place. President Obama rightly established those protections because it is too risky to drill and would critically set us back in the global fight against climate change,” he said.

Confusion around Interior’s offshore drilling plans stems from an April Wall Street Journal article that referred them as “indefinitely sidelined.” Earlier this month Bernhardt reiterated the departments intent to draft the plan.

Interior is required to write a five-year plan for how to manage offshore oil leases, and the current plan runs through 2022. Crafting a new plan has already caused friction between Interior and members of both parties.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) supports drilling off Alaska’s coast and recently told reporters Bernhardt was smart to delay making a plan before he knows what areas will be available for drilling.

But other Republicans, including a number of members from Florida, have asked Bernhardt to exclude their state from any future plan.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told Bernhardt at a hearing last week that “among Floridians there is virtually no support for drilling off the coast.”

Florida lawmakers have introduced legislation to bar drilling along the state’s coast. Democratic delegations from New Jersey and Virginia have similarly requested no offshore development along their coastlines.

Bernhardt’s conversation with senators about his offshore drilling plans appeared to be key in garnering support for his nomination.

“They’re not guarantees but he gave me some assurances that lead me to a place where I felt like I could responsibly vote for him,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said at the time of Bernhardt’s vote.

Bernhardt told House lawmakers earlier this month that he was not aware of any offshore drilling proposal that advanced against opposition from the state.

Tags Angus King Arctic David Bernhardt Department of the Interior Donald Trump Lisa Murkowski Marco Rubio Offshore drilling

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