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Trump’s order revoking Obama’s Arctic drilling ban unlawful, court rules

U.S. president Trump’s executive order from 2017 overturning his predecessor’s Barack Obama’s ban of oil & gas activity in certain areas in the U.S. Arctic and in canyons in the Atlantic Ocean, has been deemed illegal and invalid by a federal judge in Alaska on Friday.

President Obama in 2015 and 2016 issued three memoranda and one executive order withdrawing certain areas in the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea from leasing for oil and gas exploration.

On April 28, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13795, which aimed at revoking the 2015 and 2016 withdrawals.

A few days after President Trump’s executive order, environmental groups filed a complaint citing a violation of the constitution and a violation of the President’s statutory authority.

Under the section 12 (a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the President of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.

The conservation groups have argued that the OCSLA text only authorizes a President to withdraw lands from disposition, without granting him a right to revoke a prior withdrawal. The right to revoke remains “vested solely with Congres,” the plaintiffs have argued, and  The United States District Court for the District of Alaska agreed.

“President Obama’s 2015 and 2016 Executive Orders each stated it was intended to apply “for a time period without specific expiration,” and contained language indicating that all future leasing was intended to be prohibited in the areas encompassed by the withdrawals. The wording of President Obama’s 2015 and 2016 withdrawals indicates that he intended them to extend indefinitely, and therefore be revocable only by an act of Congress,” the court document reads.

The court has agreed with the plaintiffs reasoning that OCSLA’s structure promotes the view that Section 12(a) did not grant revocation authority to the President.

“The Court finds Congress’s silence in Section 12(a) as to according the President revocation authority was likely purposeful; had Congress intended to grant the President revocation authority, it could have done so explicitly, as it had previously done in several (but not all) of its previously enacted uplands laws,” the Court said.

Federal defendants argued that a president then could issue an order to withdraw all of the unleased lands on the OCS. The Court agreed but added that Congress could readily reverse such action by either revoking the withdrawal itself or amending Section 12(a) to expressly provide that a future President could also revoke a prior presidential withdrawal.

The U.S. district judge Sharon L. Gleason has found that Trump’s executive order “which purported to revoke prior presidential withdrawals of OCS lands for leasing, is unlawful, as it exceeded the President’s authority under Section 12(a) of OCSLA…The previous three withdrawals issued on January 27, 2015, and December 20, 2016, will remain in full force and effect unless and until revoked by Congress.”

Alaska senator ‘strongly disagrees’

Commenting on the court ruling, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska said: “I strongly disagree with this ruling, which asserts that past presidents can bind their successors and only Congress can overturn those decisions,” Murkowski said. “That is not the correct interpretation of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and could have catastrophic impacts for offshore development, which creates jobs, generates revenues, and strengthens our national security. I expect this decision to be appealed and ultimately overturned—if not by the Ninth Circuit, then by the Supreme Court.”

She reminded that, just weeks before leaving office, President Obama unilaterally withdrew 125 million acres of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas from offshore oil and gas leasing.

In a statement on Sunday, Murkowski cited an estimated by the Department of the Interior, according to which the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas hold an estimated 23.6 billion barrels of oil and 104.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. She further cited a 2011 analysis which found that development of those resources would create an annual average of 55,000 jobs over a 50-year period and generate a total of $193 billion for local, state, and federal treasuries.

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