As cross-arguments continue between the many parties in a federal lawsuit seeking to block seismic testing off coastal waters of East Coast states, three more municipalities in the Carolinas will get their voices heard, while the federal government tries to get some of South Carolina’s specific claims tossed.
Conservation groups, including Georgia’s One Hundred Miles, filed the suit in December in order to stop the seismic testing that is the precursor to offshore oil and gas drilling. The federal government already awarded five companies permits for incidental harassment of marine mammals that would occur during seismic testing.
The federal defendants — the National Marine Fisheries Services, NMFS Assistant Administrator Chris Oliver and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — argue in a Monday filing that South Carolina “states four novel and legally baseless theories raised by no other party in this suit.”
Those claims, according to the federal attorneys, are that 2017 orders by the president and the Commerce secretary were invalid because “they retract putative policies” from the Obama administration, that they seismic testing is a public nuisance, that any survey activities would constitute trespassing and that the survey activities violate admiralty law.
Regarding Obama administration’s move to withdraw all non-leased land in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf, they state, “There was no wholesale withdrawal of the Atlantic OCS from disposition of leasing in 2016, and even if there were such a withdrawal, it would not preclude the proposed seismic testing at issue.”
Initial reporting on the Obama administration’s move was that the then-president invoked a 1953 law governing offshore leases, and that there’s no provision within the law that would allow the successive administration to repeal the decision.
The federal defendants state later in the motion, “Moreover, the state’s public nuisance and trespass claims are barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, are not cognizable claims and are displaced by other statutes.”
They also argue South Carolina isn’t in a position to satisfy the requirements of invoking admiralty jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, three coastal towns in Brunswick County, N.C. — Caswell Beach, Oak Island and Sunset Beach — received authorization from U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel to file a friends of the court brief supporting the plaintiffs. There are 16 South Carolina municipalities that are already plaintiffs in the case.
Represented by attorneys out of Wilmington, N.C., the towns argue in a draft amici curiae brief along similar lines as the other municipalities and states, that they depend on tourism, fishing and other industries tied to the coast that could be irreparably harmed by testing and drilling, not to mention the environmental impact, which the towns tie back into tourism.
The towns conclude, “When one lives near the sea, he/she appreciates that protecting the ocean and its nonhuman inhabitants is essential to protecting one’s very way of life. The way of life in the towns and other North Carolina coastal communities requires living in harmony with the ocean so that its natural beauty and natural resources continue to bless the lives of coastal residents with jobs, income, and quality of life.
“Seismic air-gun testing takes aim at these blessings and threatens to cause irreparable harm to the ocean and its related economy enjoyed by the towns and their neighbors.”
The towns have to file their real amici curiae brief by the end of the week.