The ruling, one of three administration setbacks this week, restores Obama-era protections to 128 million acres of federal waters
A federal judge in Alaska declared late Friday that President Trump’s order revoking a sweeping ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans is illegal, putting 128 million acres of federal waters off limits to energy exploration.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason is the third legal setback this week to Trump’s energy and environmental policies. 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.
Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Lewis T. Babcock, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, ruled that Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service illegally approved two gas drilling plans in western Colorado. The judge said officials did not adequately analyze wildlife and climate impacts in their plans — which were challenged by a coalition of environmental groups — to drill 171 wells in North Fork Valley, which provides key habitat for elk and mule deer.
Earlier this month, for example, a federal judge halted drilling on more than 300,000 acres of oil and gas leases in Wyoming. Friday’s decision on offshore drilling could affect a five-year leasing plan the administration plans to issue in the summer, as well as block the six offshore lease sales it proposed to schedule in the Arctic Ocean starting as early as this year. Friday’s decision applies to 98 percent of the Arctic Ocean, as well as undersea canyons in the Atlantic spanning a total of 3.8 million acres, stretching from the Chesapeake Bay to New England.
“President Trump’s lawlessness is catching up with him,” Erik Grafe, the lead attorney from the environmental law organization Earthjustice who argued to reinstate Obama’s leasing withdrawals in the Arctic and Atlantic, said in an interview Saturday. “The judge’s ruling today shows that the president can not 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.”