Trump is being challenged on his decision to jettison a permanent ban on new offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans: a dozen environmental advocacy groups, as well as Alaska Native groups, filed a lawsuit in district court in Alaska on May 3.
The America-First Offshore Energy Strategy, signed by the POTUS on April 28, will make millions of acres of federal waters eligible for oil and gas leasing, just four months after former President Barack Obama withdrew these areas from possible development, using an obscure law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, passed in 1953, to protect large portions of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic and a string of canyons in the Atlantic stretching from Massachusetts to Virginia.
At the signing, Trump emphasized that the United States. has abundant offshore oil and gas reserves, “but the federal government has kept 94 percent of these offshore areas closed for exploration and production, and when they say closed, they mean closed,” according to a report by The Washington Post.
Trump’s executive order could open up more than 120 million acres of ocean territory to the oil and gas industry– affecting 98 percent of federal Arctic Ocean waters and 31 biologically rich deepwater canyons in the Atlantic Ocean, the suit alleges.
In filing the case in district court in Alaska, groups including the League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Alaska Wilderness League, Defenders of Wildlife, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, REDOIL (Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands), Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and The Wilderness Society, – and represented by attorneys at Earthjustice and Natural Resources Defense Council – issued the following joint statement: “President Trump’s April 28 executive order exceeds his constitutional and statutory authority and violates federal law…. Until Trump, no president has ever tried to reverse a permanent withdrawal made under OCSLA, which does not authorize such a reversal.”
Specifically, the advocacy groups said in a joint release that they are worried about three major outcomes:
- Drilling in remote and inaccessible Arctic waters threatens injury to imperiled wildlife – such as polar bears, whale and walruses, and people who depend on them. Drilling there is particularly dangerous and risky because it would be effectively impossible to clean up an oil spill in icy, remote Arctic waters. The federal government, itself, has concluded that there was a 75 percent chance of a major oil spill if development and production in the Chukchi Sea moved forward under even a single large lease sale.
- In the Atlantic, drilling in the protected areas would threaten unique and critical habitat for a multitude of whale species, as well as swordfish and sea turtles. In addition, Atlantic drilling threatens the region’s vibrant fishing and tourism industry—a spill equivalent to the BP Gulf oil disaster could coat beaches stretching from Savannah to Boston.
- These major risks “are particularly egregious and pointless in a world assaulted by climate change,” given the extremely long lead times needed before these undeveloped offshore areas could be brought into production. Full development and burning of oil and gas from the Arctic Ocean alone could release nearly 16 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Pursuing this development stands at cross-purposes with the nation’s necessary and rapidly accelerating move away from fossil fuels, and with previous commitments to address global climate change, they said.
One of the prime movers behind the lawsuit, Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen, stated, “In his first 100 days, Donald Trump has pulled out all the stops in attempting to roll back environmental protections at the behest of his fossil fuel industry cronies. His executive order attempting to undo President Obama’s historic protection of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans from drilling is part of a plan to sell off our oceans to polluting corporations at the cost of the safety of coastal communities, the fate of marine wildlife and our children’s future. We are going to court today to defend these irreplaceable waters and work along with millions of Americans who support a brighter vision for our nation and this planet.”