A three-judge appellate panel heard arguments today asking the court to rescind the approval of five deepwater drilling plans in the Gulf of Mexico that were filed just days before and after the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history when the Deepwater Horizon exploded.
Earthjustice is representing the Sierra Club, the Gulf Restoration Network, the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups in asking for the Court to force the Interior Department to rescind several deepwater drilling permits regulators approved last April. The five drilling permits were awarded without completion of the full environmental-impact assessments required by law, including one to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which regulates offshore drilling.
"What the agency did was rubber-stamp the plans," Monica Reimer, an attorney for Earthjustice, said during today's hearing at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. "We believe they need to be reopened, and that those plans must come before the court after the agency has done a complete environmental assessment."
The suit seeks to have the Department of Interior and Secretary Kenneth Salazar update U.S. drilling regulations to safeguard water quality and wildlife from disasters such as the BP Gulf oil spill.
"This case is about lax regulation by all of the permitting agencies," said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. "It is actually easier to get a permit for an offshore oil well than for a hot dog stand."
"Deep-water drilling is an inherently risky process, and the industry knows it,'' said Earthjustice attorney Monica Reimer. "There is major potential for significant environmental impact as we saw this time last year and regulators should be forced to factor that into their permit approval decisions.”