President Donald Trump’s plan to open much of the American continental shelf to oil exploration has been put on hold after a federal court recently ruled in favor of maintaining existing restrictions against drilling for oil off of the Alaska and Virginia coasts.
In March, The New York Times reported that a federal judge for the United States District Court for the District of Alaska ruled against the president’s efforts to revoke an Obama-era executive order that withdrew 120 million acres of Arctic Ocean and about 3.8 million acres of Atlantic Ocean areas from oil exploration initiatives. The judge stated that Trump’s efforts to revoke the drilling ban are “unlawful” and “exceeded the president’s authority,” according to the report, and that the ban will “will remain in full force and effect unless and until revoked by Congress.”
In response to the ruling, Department of Interior (DOI) officials have more or less scrapped plans that could have opened up the entirety of America’s coastline to increased oil exploration initiatives, The New York Times reported this week.
Molly Block, a spokesperson for the Interior Department, told The Times, “Given the recent court decision, the [DOI] is simply evaluating all of its options to determine the best pathway to accomplish the mission entrusted to it by the President.”
The ruling could be appealed to the Ninth District Circuit Court and could potentially reach the United States Supreme Court, but not for several years.
It is unclear how either President’s actions will be interpreted by the court, as both Obama’s efforts to protect these areas and Trump’s push to repeal those protections are considered to have taken place according to what is considered, at best, shaky legal precedent.
It is expected that the legal setback for President Trump could also precipitate further legal action from environmental groups who seek to turn back a controversial 2017 plan that shrunk the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.
The ruling comes as a new Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, takes the helm of the department. Bernhardt was recently confirmed to his position after fierce opposition from Democrats amid accusations of ethics violations. Though Bernhardt took office only two weeks ago, several inquiries into the secretary’s connections to previous employers have taken shape.
The DOI Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently confirmed active investigations into potential ethics violations by six senior DOI officials.