President Donald Trump exceeded his authority when he reversed bans on offshore drilling in vast parts of the Arctic Ocean and dozens of canyons in the Atlantic Ocean, a US judge has said in a ruling that restored the Obama-era restrictions.
US District Court Judge Sharon Gleason in a decision late on Friday threw out Trump’s executive order that overturned the bans that comprised a key part of Obama’s environmental legacy.
Presidents have the power under a federal law to remove certain lands from development but cannot revoke those removals, Gleason said.
“The wording of President Obama’s 2015 and 2016 withdrawals indicates that he intended them to extend indefinitely, and therefore be revocable only by an act of Congress,” said Gleason, who was nominated to the bench by Obama.
A Department of Justice spokesman, Jeremy Edwards, declined to comment on Saturday.
The American Petroleum Institute, a defendant in the case, disagreed with the ruling.
“In addition to bringing supplies of affordable energy to consumers for decades to come, developing our abundant offshore resources can provide billions in government revenue, create thousands of jobs and will also strengthen our national security,” it said in a statement.
Erik Grafe, an attorney with Earthjustice, welcomed the ruling, saying it “shows that the president cannot just trample on the Constitution to do the bidding of his cronies in the fossil fuel industry at the expense of our oceans, wildlife and climate.”
Earthjustice represented numerous environmental groups that sued the Trump administration over the April 2017 executive order reversing the drilling bans. At issue in the case was the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.
In 2015, Obama halted exploration in coastal areas of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas and the Hanna Shoal, an important area for walrus. In late 2016, he withdrew most other potential Arctic Ocean lease areas – about 98 per cent of the Arctic outer continental shelf.
The bans were intended to protect polar bears, walruses, ice seals and Alaska Native villages that depend on the animals.
In the Atlantic, Obama banned exploration in 5,937 square miles (15,377sq/km) of underwater canyon complexes, citing their importance for marine mammals, deep-water corals, valuable fish populations and migratory whales.
What is offshore?
The coastlines of the United States are not the actual borders of the United States. The U.S. border is actually 200 miles away from the coastline. This area around the country is called the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan claimed the EEZ in the name of the United States. In 1994, all countries were granted an EEZ of 200 miles from their coastlines under the International Law of the Sea.
The ocean floor extends from the coast into the ocean on a continental shelf that gradually descends to a sharp drop, called the continental slope. The width of the U.S. continental shelf varies from 10 miles to 250 miles (16 kilometers to 400 kilometers). The water on the continental shelf is relatively shallow, rarely more than 500 feet to 650 feet (150 meters to 200 meters) deep.
The continental shelf drops off at the continental slope, ending in abyssal plains that are 2 miles to 3 miles (3 kilometers to 5 kilometers) below sea level. Many of the plains are flat, while others have jagged mountain ridges, deep canyons, and valleys. The tops of some of these mountain ridges form islands where they extend above the water.
Several federal government agencies manage the natural resources in the EEZ. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement manage the development of offshore energy resources by private companies that lease areas for energy development from the federal government. These companies pay royalties to the government on the energy resources they produce from the leased areas in the ocean. Most states control the 3-mile area that extends off of their coasts, but Florida, Texas, and some other states control the waters for as much as 9 miles to 12 miles off of their coasts.
Most of the energy the United States gets from the ocean is oil and natural gas from wells drilled on the ocean floor. Other energy sources are under development offshore. America’s first offshore wind energy project, the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island, became operational in December 2016. Other wind energy projects are under consideration in several other areas off the Atlantic coast. Wave energy, tidal energy, ocean thermal energy conversion, and methane hydrates are other energy sources currently under development or exploration.