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U.S. Judge Shoots Down Trump Repeal of Obama Ocean Drilling Ban, Puts 51.8 Million Hectares Off Limits to Fossils

A U.S. federal judge in Alaska put 128 million acres (51.8 million hectares) of Arctic and Atlantic Ocean waters off limits for oil and gas exploration in a ruling late Friday, declaring Donald Trump acted illegally by attempting to revoke an Obama-era ban on drilling in the sensitive ecosystems.

In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason “wrote that the law in which Congress gave the president authority over offshore drilling—the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act—expressly allows for leasing withdrawals but does not state that a subsequent president can revoke those withdrawals without congressional approval,” the Washington Post reports.

“As a result, the previous three withdrawals issued on January 27, 2015 and December 20, 2016 will remain in full force and effect unless and until revoked by Congress,” Gleason wrote.

“President Trump’s lawlessness is catching up with him,” said Earthjustice lead attorney Erik Grafe. “The judge’s ruling today shows that the president cannot just trample on the constitution to do the bidding of his cronies in the fossil fuel industry at the expense of our oceans, wildlife, and climate.”

Gleason’s decision “is the third legal setback this week to Trump’s energy and environmental policies,” the Post states. “The judge, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2012, also blocked on Friday a land swap the Interior Department arranged that would pave the way for constructing a road through wilderness in a major National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.”

And it came on the heels of a ruling by Reagan-appointed District Court Judge Lewis T. Babcock that shot down two natural gas drilling plans calling for 171 new wells in western Colorado, concluding they failed to adequately address wildlife and climate impacts. An earlier decision, protecting 300,000 acres (121,400 hectares) in Wyoming, also turned in part on climate impacts that a judge said had not received the consideration they warranted under U.S. law.

“Trump’s rollbacks of Obama-era conservation policies have suffered nearly two dozen setbacks in federal court, largely on procedural grounds,” the Post notes. “While the administration is appealing many of these decisions and holds an advantage if the cases reach the Supreme Court, the rulings have slowed [Trump’s] drive to expand fossil fuel production in the United States.”

Erik Milito, vice president of upstream and industry operations the American Petroleum Institute, told the Post the offshore drilling process can continue while litigation continues. “While we disagree with the decision, our nation still has a significant opportunity before us in the development of the next offshore leasing plan to truly embrace our nation’s energy potential and ensure American consumers and businesses continue to benefit from U.S. energy leadership,” he said.

But Grafe said the ruling blocks lease sales that were scheduled in the administration’s five-year oil and gas development plan but fall in areas that were protected during Obama’s presidency.

“I think they’d have a hard time scheduling a lease sale in a place that’s now permanently off limits,” he said. “The law of the land of the land today is no drilling in most of the Arctic Ocean, and in these important areas in the Atlantic.”InsideClimate News has more on the cases where Trump’s energy “dominance” agenda has been running into problems, and on the likelihood that environmental defenders will continue highlighting climate impacts in court.