Green groups sue Trump over offshore drilling rollbacks

Green groups sue Trump over offshore drilling rollbacks

A coalition of environmental groups is suing the Trump administration for rolling back drilling protections put in place after the deadly Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 left millions of gallons of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Northern District of California, targets changes the White House made to offshore drilling regulations that required increased monitoring of safety equipment, including the caps designed to fit over well heads and stop leaking oil.

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“The Trump administration is now rolling back these regulations allegedly to reduce the burden on industry,” said Chris Eaton, an attorney with Earthjustice who helped file the suit. The problem, he said, is the federal government is “basically just rolling the dice when it comes to worker safety and oil spills.”

The Obama-era regulations were put in place in 2011 in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and a new agency — the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), part of the Department of the Interior — was tasked with enforcing them.

Under the new policy, third-party inspectors, rather than the BSEE itself, would inspect wells' safety systems, something critics say opens the door to less rigorous scrutiny and leaves companies forwarding performance logs to the outside inspectors for what Eaton described as a “paperwork review.”

“It puts responsibility for ensuring adequate inspection in the hands of the industry that failed to do that in the case of the BP blowout,” he said. “We cannot let this industry police itself.”

The new regulations also reduce testing of safety equipment, including well caps, and end the requirement that companies have an onshore team analyzing production to flag safety issues for rig workers that may not be able to note changes in how equipment is performing.

The suit asks the court to block the rollback and argues the Trump administration did not provide adequate justification for scaling back rules that were previously found to improve the safety of offshore drilling for both rig workers and the environment.

Interior and BSEE did not immediately respond to requests for comment.  

The plaintiffs in the suit are being represented by a number of environmental groups, including EarthJustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife.