Bush Administration Loses Appeal in California Offshore Drilling Case

Federal Government Should Get Serious About Coastal Protection, Says NRDC

SAN FRANCISCO (December 2, 2002) -- A federal appeals court dealt a blow to the Bush administration's plan to allow new oil drilling off California's coast. A panel of judges upheld a lower court ruling that the government illegally extended 36 undeveloped oil leases off the central California coast. The panel agreed with the state of California and environmental groups who had sued the federal government because of the environmental risks posed by oil drilling.

"This is a victory for the millions of people who visit, live and work by California's coast," said Drew Caputo, a senior attorney with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), a national environmental group that joined in California's legal challenge. "After losing twice in federal court, it's time for the Bush administration to stop fighting for more oil drilling and to start protecting California's coast."

In June 2001, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled that the federal Minerals Management Service (MMS) failed to comply with the Coastal Zone Management Act, a law that grants states the authority to review federal actions that may affect their coasts. The judge also found that the lease extensions were illegal because the service did not study the environmental consequences of drilling the leases, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco heard the case after the Bush administration appealed Judge Wilken's ruling. It upheld the lower court ruling in all respects.

In a 33 page opinion, the appeals court wrote that the lease extensions "represent a significant decision to extend the life of oil exploration and production off of California's coast, with all of the far reaching effects and perils that go along with offshore oil production." It noted that the 36 leases "are located between the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which contain many species that are particularly sensitive to the impacts of spilled oil."

The only higher authority that the Bush administration can appeal to is the U.S. Supreme Court. The case (No. 01-16637 D.C. No. CV-99-04964-CW) is State of California v. Gale Norton, Secretary of the Department of Interior.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.