Sound Science, Objective Facts, and the Rule of Law

These basics of federal decision-making are fundamental to the interests of the American people—even when they contradict the president’s actions. 

President Donald Trump with Vice President Mike Pence on April 28, 2017, when Trump signed an executive order directing the U.S. Department of Interior to review offshore drilling policies.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo

A recent courtroom win for our ocean waters has affirmed part of the majesty of American democracy: No one, not even the president, is above the law.

That’s especially important now. President Trump is waging the worst administrative assault in history on our environment and health. But he’s not above our system of justice, as our courts are making clear through decisions that thwart some of the worst of Trump’s attacks and buttress the rule of law.

Ninety-eight percent of the federally owned Arctic Ocean is off limits to oil and gas drilling, as are 31 deepwater Atlantic canyons. President Obama declared a permanent ban on federal oil and gas leasing in those waters. He did so to protect irreplaceable habitat and marine life and all they support, including businesses and communities up and down the Eastern Seaboard, from the hazard and harm of these dangerous industrial operations at sea.

Two years ago, President Trump tried to lift those protections. He signed an executive order to revoke the ban, exposing about 125 million acres of Arctic waters and another 3.8 million acres of the Atlantic to the hazards and harm of offshore drilling.

NRDC, which led the campaign for the original ban, filed suit. Our attorneys, along with Earthjustice, represent a coalition of native and conservation groups seeking to block Trump’s reckless and illegal order.

Federal law explicitly grants presidents the authority to withdraw federal waters from potential leasing for oil and gas production. That’s what President Obama did. That law, though, does not empower a president to open up waters to drilling once they’ve been withdrawn under that law. In trying to do that, Trump exceeded his authority.

That’s what Judge Sharon Gleason, of the U.S. District Court in Alaska, found in her March 29 ruling. Declaring Trump’s executive order “unlawful and invalid,” she ruled that the Obama ban “will remain in full force and effect unless and until revoked by Congress.”

Trump is doing extensive harm to our environment; make no mistake. He’s not doing so unchallenged, though, and he won’t get away with breaking the law.

To help make sure he doesn’t, NRDC has engaged in more than 80 lawsuits against this administration. Of the 39 that have been resolved, we’ve scored wins in 33. These are victories for all of us, because, consistent with the dictates of federal law, they help to compel the protection of clean air, healthy oceans, thriving wildlife, and public lands that belong to you and me.

We’ll keep up the fight. Trump’s lawlessness will not stand.

Since taking office, Trump has told more than 9,000 lies that we know of, about the environment and pretty much everything else. That doesn’t stand when you’re in front of a judge. The courts are where we bring falsehood to heel.

The rule of law is fundamental to American democracy. It’s how elected legislators enshrine our values, protect our interests, and define those mutual obligations and benefits that gather us as free and independent people. That’s why an attack on the rule of law is an attack on our democracy. That’s something we, as a society, can never abide.

In this country, our laws apply to everyone. No one, not even the president, is above the law. That’s not some ancillary suggestion or idle call to virtue. It’s what government by the consent of the governed is all about.

Stop Offshore Drilling

About the Authors

Mitchell Bernard

Chief Counsel / Interim President

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