An ex­ec­u­tive or­der re­vers­ing a ban on off­shore drilling is chal­lenged in court.

Houston Chronicle - - BUSINESS - By Mark Thiessen

AN­CHOR­AGE, Alaska — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ex­ceeded his power when he signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der re­vers­ing a ban on off­shore drilling in vast parts of the Arctic Ocean and dozens of un­der­wa­ter canyons in the Atlantic Ocean, an at­tor­ney ar­gued in fed­eral court on Fri­day.

Erik Grafe, an Alaska-based at­tor­ney for the en­vi­ron­men­tal group Earthjus­tice, said Trump acted with­out the author­ity of Congress or the Con­sti­tu­tion when he re­versed Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s drilling ban.

Grafe, the lead at­tor­ney in a law­suit backed by nearly a dozen en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, con­tends the Outer Con­ti­nen­tal Shelf Lands Act only al­lows pres­i­dents to re­move lands un­der con­sid­er­a­tion for de­vel­op­ment, not add them back in. Only Congress has that author­ity, he said.

“Pres­i­dent Trump has at­tempted uni­lat­er­ally to undo pro­tec­tions that Pres­i­dent Obama put in place. And our ar­gu­ment is that that ac­tion is un­law­ful be­cause he lacks con­sti­tu­tional author­ity and he lacks author­ity from Congress,” Grafe told re­porters out­side the court­room in U.S. Dis­trict Court in An­chor­age.

Act­ing As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jef­frey Wood coun­tered that Grafe and oth­ers were mis­in­ter­pret­ing the in­tent of the law, writ­ten in 1953. He said it is meant to be flex­i­ble and sen­si­ble and not in­tended to bind one pres­i­dent with de­ci­sions made by the pre­vi­ous one when de­ter­min­ing off­shore stew­ard­ship as needs and re­al­i­ties change over time.

He said the plain­tiffs were “sim­ply wrong.” The U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice de­clined to make Wood avail­able for com­ment fol­low­ing the hear­ing.

In the gov­ern­ment’s response to the law­suit, it said only al­low­ing pres­i­dents to take land out of con­sid­er­a­tion for de­vel­op­ment “is one-way ratchet that broadly au­tho­rizes any one Pres­i­dent to limit the na­tional po­ten­tial for leas­ing, ex­plo­ration, and de­vel­op­ment in the OCS for all time while si­mul­ta­ne­ously ty­ing the hands of that same Pres­i­dent and all fu­ture pres­i­dents, even if those lim­its prove un­wise or con­trary to the crit­i­cal na­tional pri­or­i­ties that OCSLA ad­vances, in­clud­ing en­ergy de­vel­op­ment and na­tional se­cu­rity.”

The drilling ban was a key part of for­mer Obama’s en­vi­ron­men­tal legacy. The ban was in­tended to pro­tect po­lar bears, wal­rus, ice seals and Alaska Na­tive vil­lages that de­pend on the an­i­mals.

In 2015, Obama halted ex­plo­ration in coastal ar­eas of the Beau­fort and Chukchi seas and the Hanna Shoal, an im­por­tant area for wal­rus. In late De­cem­ber 2016, he with­drew most other po­ten­tial Arctic Ocean lease ar­eas — about 98 per­cent of the Arctic outer con­ti­nen­tal shelf.

In the Atlantic, Obama banned ex­plo­ration in 5,937 square miles of un­der­wa­ter canyon com­plexes, cit­ing their im­por­tance for marine mam­mals, deep-water corals, valu­able fish pop­u­la­tions and mi­gra­tory whales, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit.

Trump re­versed the bans in April 2017.

U.S. Dis­trict Judge Sharon Glea­son took the case un­der ad­vise­ment and didn’t in­di­cate when she might rule. A lease sale ten­ta­tively planned next year in the Beau­fort Sea off Alaska’s north coast could be af­fected if she rules for the en­vi­ron­men­tal groups.

Mark Thiessen / As­so­ci­ated Press

Erik Grafe, cen­ter, an at­tor­ney for Earthjus­tice, speaks to re­porters fol­low­ing a hear­ing Fri­day in U.S. Dis­trict Court in An­chor­age, Alaska. Earthjus­tice claims Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ex­ceeded his author­ity when he re­versed a ban on off­shore drilling in vast parts of the Arctic Ocean.

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