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Appeals court backs drilling protections reinstated by Biden
A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday affirmed an earlier decision upholding Obama-era standards for Arctic Ocean and Atlantic Ocean protections.
In an April 2017 executive order, then-President Trump unwound the Obama administration's permanent ban on offshore gas and oil drilling in the oceans.
But in 2019, the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska ruled in favor of a coalition of conservation groups, finding that the Trump administration had overstepped its authority with the rollback. Plaintiffs in the case included the groups Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands, the Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society.
In its Tuesday order, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld an earlier decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska, noting that the Biden administration had issued an executive order revoking the Trump order.
"We lack jurisdiction to consider 'moot questions ... or to declare principles or rules of law which cannot affect the matter in issue in the case before [us],'" the ruling states. "Because the terms of the challenged Executive Order are no longer in effect, the relevant areas of the OCS [outer continental shelf] in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Atlantic Ocean will be withdrawn from exploration and development activities regardless of the outcome of these appeals."
"We welcome today's decision and its confirmation of President Obama's legacy of ocean and climate protection. As the Biden administration considers its next steps, it should build on these foundations, end fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters, and embrace a clean energy future that does not come at the expense of wildlife and our natural heritage," Earthjustice said in a statement. "One obvious place for immediate action is America's Arctic, including the Arctic Refuge and the Western Arctic, which the previous administration sought to relegate to oil development in a series of last-minute decisions that violate bedrock environmental laws."