A US federal judge has declared “illegal” President Donald Trump's order to lift bans on drilling for oil and gas in offshore Arctic and Atlantic areas.
Trump's move to open more areas to drilling "is unlawful, as it exceeds the president's authority," US District Judge Sharon Gleason ruled late Friday.
Therefore, bans on drilling in those areas "will remain in full force and effect unless and until revoked by Congress," the ruling said.
“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,” said Erik Grafe, the lead attorney from the environmental law organization Earthjustice.
The indefinite prohibition was enacted by former President Barack Obama in December 2016 under a 1953 law. As a result of the enactment, new drilling in US waters in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska, including most of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and in 31 underwater canyons in the Atlantic Ocean, was made illegal.
The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act authorizes the president to withdraw offshore areas from commercial use. Former presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Bill Clinton also invoked the legislation.
In April 2017, Trump signed an executive order that aimed to lift the ban, claiming it would pull in "billions of dollars" for America and create jobs.
"Our country's blessed with incredible natural resources, including abundant offshore oil and natural gas reserves, but the federal government has kept 94 percent of these offshore areas closed for exploration and production," the president said at the time. "This deprives our country of potentially thousands and thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in wealth."
The new decision by Gleason, who was appointed to the federal bench by Obama in 2012, marks the third legal setback this week to Trump’s energy and environmental policies.
Earlier on Friday, the judge blocked a land swap arranged by the Interior Department that would pave the way for building a road through wilderness in a major National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
Also, US District Judge Lewis T. Babcock, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, declared earlier this week that Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service illegally approved two gas drilling plans in western Colorado.
The judge argued that officials had not adequately analyzed wildlife and climate impacts in their plans — which were also criticized by a coalition of environmental groups — to drill 171 wells in North Fork Valley, which is an important habitat for elk and mule deer.