Following South Carolina’s lead, the other plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to stop seismic airgun testing off the Atlantic Coast filed their responses, over the past several days, to a status report by the federal defendants in federal court in Charleston, S.C. The responses generally agree that the Interior secretary and the acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management showed their cards by stating application processing continues and essentially authorizations could go out at any time.
“First, the status report and accompanying declaration confirm that seismic testing poses an imminent threat of irreparable harm to the environment and plaintiffs’ members,” wrote Catherine Wannamaker of the Southern Environmental Law Center, joined by attorneys from the SELC, the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, Jenner & Block, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
She continues, “Federal defendants have already issued the five incidental harassment authorizations at issue here, and permit applications for all five seismic surveys are still pending before BOEM. … Federal defendants’ status report disclaims any connection between recent delays related to BOEM’s leasing plans and the agency’s consideration of these permit applications.”
Georgia’s One Hundred Miles is one of the conservation groups among the plaintiffs, as is the NRDC, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the N.C. Coastal Federation, Oceana, the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, the Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation.
The status report came after statements by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to the Wall Street Journal that the Trump administration’s plans for offshore drilling — in nearly every Outer Continental Shelf area off U.S. coastlines — were on hold.
That was because a federal judge in Alaska ruled the documents that the administration used to justify its plans were illegal in repealing actions taken by the Obama administration to make these areas off-limits for drilling and associated activities.
According to the response by the group of nine state plaintiffs, “The federal defendants state that the Department of the Interior ‘is evaluating what, if any, effect’ the decision in League of Conservation Voters v. Trump ‘may have on planning for OCS lease sales in the National OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program.’ … They further state that ‘(t)he Department of Interior is reviewing all its options,’ without providing any indication of how long that review will take. …
“To the extent that the department’s review and evaluation result in a delay in the issuance of a Proposed Program for 2019-2024, as recent media reports have indicated, that delay undercuts any argument that it is urgent to conduct seismic testing now, and underscores that an injunction would serve the public interest….”
The nine states include Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Virginia. South Carolina is a party to the suit independently of the other states. The 16 South Carolina municipalities that are parties to the suit, plus the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce, also filed a response, stating, “Given the federal defendants have asserted BOEM applications will continue to be reviewed despite the ruling in League of Conservation Voters et. al. v. Trump et. al., … it is all the more crucial this court grant the pending motions for preliminary injunction.”