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Lawsuit Challenges Reversal of Offshore Drilling Bans

A new lawsuit contends drilling for oil in the Atlantic Ocean would threaten critical habitat for whales, fish and coral. (NOAA)
A new lawsuit contends drilling for oil in the Atlantic Ocean would threaten critical habitat for whales, fish and coral. (NOAA)
May 4, 2017

NEW YORK – Environmental groups and Alaska Native Americans say President Donald Trump has exceeded his authority by reversing the ban on drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, and they're suing to stop him.

The permanent ban, instituted by President Barack Obama, applies to 31 biologically rich, deep-water canyons off the Atlantic coast and 120 million acres of ocean floor in the Arctic.

According to Erik Grafe, a staff attorney with the law firm Earthjustice, the law that made it possible to put a permanent ban in place has no provision that allows the ban to be lifted.

"The statute authorizes presidents to withdraw areas from oil and gas leasing in the outer continental shelf,” he states. “It does not authorize them to undo withdrawals."

The groups filed a lawsuit in federal court in Alaska, asking the court to declare the executive order invalid.

Trump maintains the drilling ban deprives the country of thousands of energy-related jobs.

But Grafe says an oil spill in the Arctic would be an environmental disaster for wildlife and Native Americans in Alaska who depend on it, and also would be virtually impossible to clean up.

"There are no deep water ports,” he points out. “The communities there are not connected to the road system. There's ice in the water even in the summer, which thwarts cleanup."

The federal government itself has estimated that development and production of a single large lease sale in the Chukchi Sea would have a 75 percent chance of a major spill.

Similarly, Grafe points out that a spill in the Atlantic could potentially coat beaches from Savannah to Boston with crude oil, and threaten the region's fishing industry.

"The deep water canyons are unique ecosystems with ancient corals, and they're important for a number of fish and turtle species," he states.

Grafe adds that the groups are concerned development of offshore oil would deepen the nation's commitment to fossil fuels, even as the world struggles to combat global climate change.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY