Posted in The Hill May 3, 2017
Environmental groups are suing the Trump administration, saying that part of the president’s executive order to expand offshore oil and natural gas drilling is illegal.
The coalition, led by environmental law firm Earthjustice, says President Trump cannot roll back drilling prohibitions that former President Barack Obama instituted in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans because they’re permanent.
The legal theory has never been tested in court before as no one has sued a previous administration for similar actions.
“We believe that Trump’s executive order asserts authority that Congress did not give him,” said Jason Rylander, an attorney with Defenders of Wildlife.“No president before has every attempted to withdraw waters that have been reserved under that provision of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. We don’t believe that authority exists, and we believe it’s a bad idea,” he said.
The lawsuit is the first legal action to be taken against Trump’s order signed less than a week ago.
The order takes numerous shots at Obama’s offshore drilling policies. It begins a formal review of his decisions to prohibit new drilling rights sales in the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as his safety regulations, and could lead to new drilling in those areas.
Greens oppose the order in its entirety. They want either strict limitations or a complete end to offshore drilling due to its impacts on the environment and climate.
But the Wednesday lawsuit specifically pertains to a provision in the order rescinding Obama’s withdrawals of certain areas for offshore drilling.
Obama in December cited rarely used authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) to block drilling in large swaths of the Arctic north of Alaska, as well as a series of undersea canyons in the Atlantic.
At the time, the Obama administration argued that the law in question gave no authority to future presidents to undo the action, and environmentalists agree.
“Neither OCSLA nor any other provision of law authorizes presidents to undo such withdrawals,” the groups wrote in a filing in Alaska federal court.
“President Trump’s order exceeds his constitutional authority and his statutory authority under OCSLA, and is therefore ultra vires and unlawful,” they said.
The American Petroleum Institute (API) said the greens’ central argument is wrong.
“The president clearly has authority to modify or rescind [outer continental shelf] withdrawals,” said API spokeswoman Brooke Salmon.
“The president’s EO modified Obama’s 12(a ) withdrawals as has been done by past presidents,” she said, citing President George W. Bush’s action reducing the size of a time-limited restriction that President Bill Clinton instituted.