A March 29 federal court order invaliding an executive order behind the Trump administration’s offshore energy plans led to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt ordering an indefinite suspension of all those efforts Thursday.
Executive Order 13795 — issued by President Donald Trump on April 28, 2017 — attempted to revoke the Obama administration’s moves in January 2015 and December 2016 to indefinitely ban offshore energy exploration all non-leased areas of the North Atlantic and Mid-Atlantic planning areas, along with Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska.
According to the ruling by U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason, the Obama order took off the board all of the non-leased areas in federal waters from Maine to North Carolina, and part of the area off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina, along with the areas off the entire northern coast of Alaska.
Former President Barack Obama used his authority under Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Gleason, in her order, directly quotes that section of the law, which reads, “The President of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw disposition of any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.”
There is no provision in the law allowing for any following president to repeal that order at will.
Gleason notes in the order, “Plaintiffs maintain that this text only authorizes a president to withdraw lands from disposition; it does not authorize a president to revoke a prior withdrawal. Plaintiffs assert that under the Property Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the authority to revoke a prior withdrawal was not delegated by this statute to the president and thus remains vested solely with Congress.”
She later concludes this is the proper reading of the law, holding that Section 5 of Executive Order 13795 “is unlawful and invalid,” and “hereby vacated.”
After a few weeks to ponder the ruling, Bernhardt announced the suspension of the offshore energy leasing process in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, ahead of possible appellate rulings.
“By the time the court rules, that may be discombobulating to our plan,” Bernhardt said.
Governors of states along the East Coast previously came out opposing offshore energy exploration off their coasts. April 2, the state House of Representatives passed a resolution opposing offshore energy exploration off the Georgia coast, which was supported by every member in every coastal county and every county that borders a coastal county.
An Interior spokesperson told The Hill after the WSJ story broke, “Given the recent court decision, the department is simply evaluating all of its options to determine the best pathway to accomplish the mission entrusted to it by the president.”
Environmental advocates received the news with guarded positivity. Alice Keyes, One Hundred Miles’ vice president of coastal conservation, said it’s necessary to keep up the momentum against the federal offshore leasing plans.
“This issue will not be going away during this administration,” Keyes said. “Since day one, President Trump has prioritized expanding offshore energy development, blind to the needs and best interest of our people.
“Consider the fact that right now we have a 5-year offshore leasing plan effective 2017-2022. Developing the current plan took years, millions of taxpayer dollars and involved hundreds of thousands of citizens, elected officials and organizations.”
She noted the H.R. 48 vote by the state House, opposition of Gov. Brian Kemp to drilling off the Georgia coast, and U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter’s evolution of his position regarding Georgia coastal drilling thanks to opinions voiced by the state House and numerous Georgia municipalities.
“All of these developments are a testament to the power of our coastal community when we stand together — united with our East Coast brothers and sisters,” Keyes said.
David Kyler of Center for a Sustainable Coast said court decisions have been helpful, but offshore drilling can’t be justified in the public interest.
“Too little need, too much risk,” Kyler said. “The only beneficiaries — if there are any at all — might be those who profit from the export of U.S. oil, and that will depend on very tenuous demand, price and cost of spill cleanups.”
Kyler added that the price and availability of clean energy technology have become so favorable and conversion to it preferable, that fossil fuels are less attractive.