An environmental group is concerned that more delays in the release of court records could open the door to oil exploration off the Georgia coast.

Alice Keyes, One Hundred Miles’ vice president of coastal conservation, said an extension granted federal agencies to withhold records was an unnecessary delay tactic by an administration that wants more oil drilling regardless of the consequences.

“It’s ironic that the federal government is dragging its feet at a time when every moment counts for our coast’s North Atlantic right whale,” Keyes said. “Despite the hopeful start to this year’s calving season, the fate of this beloved species hangs in the balance.

“If we have to file for injunctive relief to keep seismic companies from recklessly endangering our whales and the coast we love, we will.”

The federal government has a few more weeks to turn over court-ordered documents in the Atlantic Coast seismic airgun testing lawsuit. The additional time follows a compromise determined by a federal judge Thursday that gives neither the agencies nor the environmental and municipal plaintiffs everything either side wanted.

The plaintiffs — comprising several states, municipalities and environmental groups, including Georgia’s One Hundred Miles — have demanded for months federal agencies turn over documents necessary to complete what’s called the administrative record in the case sitting in the U.S. District Court in Charleston, S.C. They filed motions for the release in August and again in January.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ordered the federal defendants to complete the record within 45 days.

Gergel wrote in a January order that agencies must make available “all memos, emails and attachments containing factual information relied on or considered, directly or indirectly, including all emails, communications, memos or other information shared or received between agencies or with non-agency third parties that are considered.”

The defendants also have to produce a privilege log detailing documents withheld and the reasons for doing so.

Last week, attorneys for the defense filed a motion for extension to push the deadline from Thursday to April 16.

The environmental plaintiffs filed a response Feb. 14 in opposition to the request. They argued that it would create a more likely scenario that the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management could issue permits to allow seismic testing before the court deals with the case’s summary judgment issues.

“Federal defendants have repeatedly delayed the resolution of this case through piecemeal production of the administrative record,” the environmental groups stated in their response. “It has been nearly a year since federal defendants first erroneously certified that the administrative record was complete.”

In action related to the case, Gergel allowed South Carolina’s claims against the agencies to continue, but only in part. South Carolina filed its suit against the federal government separately from the other group of states.

Gergel issued an order Tuesday stating South Carolina has standing to sue by tying the potential permits to President Donald Trump’s executive order on offshore energy strategy, and that the state’s challenge to the executive order is plausible following a federal district court ruling in Alaska in March 2019 that led the Interior Department to indefinitely pause expansion of oil and gas leases.

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