In his first interview since being confirmed as Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt told the Wall Street Journal on Friday that the Administration’s ocean drilling plans have been delayed for now because it will take a long time to appeal a ruling by a Judge in Alaska that the Interior Department could not lease offshore areas that President Obama had permanently removed from leasing.  Berhardt, according to The Journal, would not speculate on how long the offshore drilling would be delayed but remarked that the appeals process is “going to take a while” and added that, “I’m not at a point now where it’s an imminent thing.”

We reported earlier this month on the Alaska ruling, in which Judge Sharon Gleason, an Obama appointee, held that the law was explicit in giving the President authority to “withdraw” lands but silent about “revocation” of a withdrawal, and thus the President Trump’s action was illegal.  

  • A coalition of environmental and Native American groups challenged President Trump’s revocation, arguing that only Congress can overturn President Obama’s withdrawals.  The oil and gas lobby disagreed, saying it was not right that one President could permanently withdraw areas (and potentially the entire U.S. offshore) from oil and gas leasing.
  • Most Republicans and Democrats oppose the President’s offshore drilling plans — including all 17 governors of coastal states in the lower 48 states (but specifically not Alaska) that could have been subject to new drilling under the now delayed plan.
  • Diane Hoskins of the environmental group Oceana, which is one of the leaders of the opposition explained: “Anything short of all new areas being protected would be a major problem for the communities and coastal economies who have the most to lose from dirty and dangerous offshore drilling.”

The oil and gas industry’s hopes had centered around a limited expansion of drilling in Alaska, and an expansion in the eastern Gulf of Mexico near Florida and parts of the Atlantic, an area that has been off limits due to its importance for military training.  The Florida coast was seen as particularly important because of the extensive operations in the rest of the Gulf of Mexico, and its proximity to pipelines and refineries.  But Florida’s Republican Governor and Senators oppose it and have been pressing the Administration to remove Florida’s coast from their drilling plans.

Why This Matters: The Alaska court may have put a huge wrench in the Administration’s plans to drill offshore, but the politics of it were not favorable either, potentially jeopardizing the President’s support in Florida.  This near capitulation could be the Administration using the ruling as a convenient way to put its highly controversial plans on the backburner, without having to compromise its drill-baby-drill principles.  No matter.  Hopefully, this plan will remain in hibernation for the duration of the Trump Administration.  This is good news for domestic ocean conservation advocates, coastal communities that depend on healthy oceans for fishing and tourism, and most of all for the animals that make the ocean their home.  

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