Late in the day on Friday, a judge struck down President Trump’s order to undo a ban on oil and gas drilling in the vast majority of the Arctic Ocean and important areas of the Atlantic, ruling Trump exceeded his constitutional authority and violated federal law. The decision immediately restores permanent protections from drilling to those areas and prevents the Trump administration from holding the offshore lease sales it proposed to schedule there starting this year.
The following is a statement from Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen: “This ruling tosses out President Trump’s unlawful order, reinstates protections for the Arctic Ocean and key areas in the Atlantic and reaffirms that President Trump is not above the law. The decision will force the Trump administration and acting Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt to reconsider their irresponsible national offshore leasing program that would turn our oceans into gas stations. It will also support the fight to oppose this administration’s ongoing attempts to roll back national monuments.”
As one of his signature acts of conservation, President Obama permanently withdrew almost 120 million acres in the Arctic Ocean — about 98 percent of the U.S. territory of the Arctic Ocean — and 31 biologically rich deepwater canyons in the Atlantic Ocean from oil and gas leasing. In April 2017, President Trump issued an executive order purporting to undo Obama’s permanent protection of those ocean territories.
Attorneys from Earthjustice and Natural Resources Defense Council challenged that action, bringing a case on behalf of conservation and Alaska Native groups. Yesterday’s ruling prevents future lease sales in these areas and protects them from drilling rigs in the future.
Drilling in remote and inaccessible Arctic waters threatens injury to imperiled wildlife such as polar bears, whales, and walruses and people that depend on them. Drilling there is particularly dangerous and risky because it would be effectively impossible to clean up an oil spill in icy, remote Arctic waters. The federal government itself has concluded that there is a 75 percent chance of a major oil spill if development and production in the Chukchi Sea moved forward under even a single large lease sale.
In the Atlantic, drilling in the protected areas would threaten unique and critical habitat for a multitude of whale species, as well as swordfish and sea turtles. In addition, Atlantic drilling threatens the region’s vibrant fishing and tourism industry — a spill equivalent to the BP Deepwater Horizon's Gulf oil disaster could coat beaches stretching from Savannah to Boston.
Drilling in these areas could have a big climate impact and would take us in the exact wrong direction, locking in fossil fuel reliance for decades to come when we need to be rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuel dependence.
In this case, Earthjustice and Natural Resources Defense Council represent Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace USA, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society.