A district court judge recently blocked the Trump administration from approving oil leases off the coast of Alaska. The decision is terrible news for American workers, who will lose out on thousands of jobs if the ruling stands.
Fortunately, the judge’s opinion contains more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese. The administration would be wise to finalize its offshore drilling plans. That way, officials will be ready to greenlight leases and permits as soon as higher courts overturn the judge’s flawed ruling.
The ruling, which Judge Sharon Gleason issued in late March, comes in response to President Trump’s 2017 executive order that overturned the Obama administration’s offshore energy policy.
President Obama had prohibited drilling in a majority of America’s Outer Continental Shelf, the submerged land off U.S. coastlines. In an unprecedented, legally questionable move, he declared some of this land permanently off-limits to oil and natural gas exploration. Altogether, his administration refused to allow drilling in 94 percent of federal offshore territories.
Soon after President Trump took office, he signed three executive orders to allow energy exploration off the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf Coast, and Alaskan shorelines. His administration will soon announce a detailed five-year offshore energy plan to expand on those orders.
Judge Gleason argues that President Trump doesn’t have the authority to overturn his predecessor’s permanent drilling ban. Her interpretation of a 1953 law is dubious. The law says “the President of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.”
Nowhere does the law say that a president can permanently ban offshore drilling. In fact, the phrase “from time to time” implies that any bans must be temporary. Yet Judge Gleason ruled that President Obama’s ban is still valid because the law doesn’t explicitly specify that presidents can reverse their predecessor’s bans.
Appeals courts will probably overturn her ruling. The Trump administration should prepare for that day, so it can approve leases and help jumpstart job creation.
According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, OCS territories may contain up to 104 billion barrels of oil and 378 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Tapping those resources would spur economic growth throughout the country. Opening federal offshore territories to exploration and drilling would induce $450 billion in cumulative private investments and boost local, state, and federal tax revenues by $200 billion over the next 15 years. By 2035, such investments would add $70 billion annually to the national GDP.
Federal law requires the administration to develop a five-year plan for offshore leasing. That plan, which could be finalized any day, is expected to greatly expand exploration and drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf.
Environmentalists are already lining up in opposition to the plan. They claim that offshore seismic surveys, the first step in the exploration process, represent a “brutal sonic assault” on ocean animals.
Those claims are baseless. Even the Obama administration’s own Bureau of Ocean Energy Management concluded there is “no documented scientific evidence” of seismic surveys hurting marine animals. And 99.9995 percent of all oil that is produced and transported in the United States reaches its destination safely.
Environmentalists’ arguments against offshore drilling don’t hold water.
It’s time for the Trump administration to forge full speed ahead with its five-year plan. Americans deserve to reap the full benefits of our natural resources.
Bethany Marcum is Executive Director of the Alaska Policy Forum.