Court Stands Behind Ban on Offshore Drilling in Arctic and Atlantic

The decision maintains protections for 128 million acres of ocean and the vast marine life they support.

The Alaskan coast

DeWaine Tollefsrud/Flickr

In a milestone win for conservation and climate action, a federal court in Alaska ruled Friday that President Trump’s April 2017 executive order to overturn bans on oil and gas leasing in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans was unlawful. “This decision makes it clear that the law does not grant the president the authority to reverse these kinds of permanent protections for our natural resources and wildlife,” says Niel Lawrence, senior attorney and director of the Alaska Project at NRDC.

One of Trump’s many moves to prop up the fossil fuel industry, the executive order sought to reopen large swaths of the U.S. Arctic and 31 deepwater canyons in the Atlantic to oil and gas leasing. NRDC and Earthjustice responded by filing a lawsuit in May 2017 on behalf of a coalition of indigenous and environmental groups.

Near the end of his term, President Obama had permanently protected these regions of the Outer Continental Shelf—a total of 128 million acres—a move that was supported by the vast majority of Americans and called, at the time, a “historic victory.” The court’s latest decision keeps a key piece of environmental law intact. “For an administration rushing to expose nearly all our coasts to the dangers of oil and gas leasing, this court decision is a bright red stop sign,” Lawrence says.

The Trump administration is expected to propose a revised five-year oil and gas leasing plan for the Outer Continental Shelf in the near future.

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