Fri, May 05, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Groups sue to maintain drilling ban

AP, ANCHORAGE, Alaska

Environmental and Alaska Native groups on Wednesday sued to maintain a US ban on oil and gas exploration in most of the Arctic Ocean and select areas of the Atlantic after US President Donald Trump took steps to put the waters back in play for offshore drilling.

The drilling ban was a key part of former US President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy, aimed at protecting polar bears, walrus, ice seals and villages that depend on the animals from industrialization and oil spills.

Waters of the Atlantic continental shelf also support whales, swordfish, bluefin tuna, sea turtles and businesses heavily dependent on the health of the ocean ecosystem, according to the lawsuit.

In an executive order on Friday last week, Trump ordered US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review the ban with the goal of opening offshore areas to job-creating energy exploration.

“With one careless stroke of his pen, Trump ignored the law and put our oceans at new risk of a devastating oil spill,” said Kristen Monsell, an attorney for the Center for Biological Development, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit in Anchorage.

White House spokeswoman Kelly Love said by e-mail that the administration is confident Trump’s commonsense decision to boost the nation’s energy sector would be vindicated by the courts.

The federal lawsuit claims that Trump exceeded his constitutional authority and violated federal law.

According to the US constitution, the US Congress has the power to regulate federal land.

Lawmakers have authorized presidents to halt drilling in unleased lands of the outer continental shelf, but did not allow them to reopen areas, according to the lawsuit.

Former US presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton made permanent or time-limited withdrawals from drilling under the Outer Continental Shelf Land Act.

“It says nothing about the authority to undo those withdrawals,” said attorney Erik Grafe of Earthjustice, one of two law firms representing the 10 groups. “No president has reversed a withdrawal in the past, except for ones that have express end dates. President Obama’s withdrawals were permanent.”

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