While the offshore drilling lawsuit in a South Carolina federal court may be stayed, activity has yet to cease, catalyzed Monday by the S.C. Attorney General’s Office filing a motion to intervene as a plaintiff in the suit, of which Georgia group One Hundred Miles is one of the original plaintiffs.
Tuesday, attorneys for the federal government filed a motion to stay the deadline of the defendants’ response to South Carolina’s motion to intervene. As reported previously, Justice Department attorneys in civil matters — along with staff at other federal agencies in the executive branch — had their funding cut off Dec. 21, at the beginning of the partial government shutdown.
The law governing these lapses in funding ban staff from working even in a volunteer capacity, unless there are emergency situations involving human life or protection of property. As with similar stay motions, the government attorneys ask for it to be in effect until the restoration of funding to the Justice Department.
South Carolina filed a response the same day opposing a stay of the deadline on its motion to intervene. Attorneys for the state wrote that in an email between parties, DOJ attorney Alison Finnegan wrote “she does ‘not have any information about whether the lapse in appropriations will impact Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s decision-making on the pending permit applications’ at issue.”
So, South Carolina’s attorneys argue, “without assurance that the BOEM will not act during the time for this stay and any time for response running after the stay is lifted, the state’s interests could be adversely impacted during a stay should BOEM proceed to act.
“Should any motion for a preliminary injunction or a temporary restraining order be filed during the stay, the attorney general would want to be heard for the state. Moreover, even if the federal defendants are not able to respond to the motion to intervene, they would still be able to raise any defenses that they believe that they have to the state’s complaint via an appropriate motions or answer if this court grants the motion to intervene.”
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel issued an order Thursday naming Jan. 15 as the deadline to file a reply to South Carolina’s response. He also ordered the federal defendants to respond to the state’s argument that BOEM could issue a decision on the pending permit applications during a stay, if the stay was granted.
Also of concern in the case is the matter of the proposed industry intervenors — a group of entities chiefly comprised of the companies awarded seismic testing permits, along with the International Association of Geophysical Contractors and the American Petroleum Institute.
The only objection to their proposed intervening is by the plaintiff municipalities, which are a group of South Carolina cities and towns that filed a similar lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in order to block the seismic testing. That lawsuit merged with this one Dec. 28.
The municipalities filed a response Jan. 4 opposing API’s presence in the case. They argue API “does not have a practical interest that will not be adequately represented by other parties,” citing a rule of civil procedure that claims a “proposed intervenor of right must have a ‘practical’ relationship between their claimed interest and the subject of the action.”
The response continues, “API lobbies for the oil industry, spending between ($5-10 million) per year over the past decade to promote their interests. API’s lobbying efforts include producing ‘reports’ that reflect unrealistic and falsely inflated figures for how offshore oil drilling would impact the economy.”
The municipalities conclude by arguing that, between API’s factual misrepresentations and lack of ability to provide added value to an already complex case, it should not be allowed to intervene.
The proposed industry intervenors, in their filing Friday, called the municipalities’ opposition baseless.
“The municipalities provide only half-hearted, unexplained and incorrect arguments in response to the merits of the motion to intervene,” according to the proposed industry intervenors’ response. “They fail to cite a single case and fail to submit any relevant evidence to rebut the sworn declaration of (API Vice President of Upstream and Industry Operations) Erik Milito in support of API’s intervention.
“Instead, the bulk of the municipalities’ response is focused on their opposition to a 2013 report by Quest Offshore commissioned — in part — by API regarding the potential economic benefits of offshore oil and gas development on the Atlantic Coast.”
Gergel had yet to issue a ruling on the municipalities-API dispute as of mid-afternoon Friday.