Federal judge quashes offshore leasing in Arctic

Dunleavy says he will work with congressional delegation to fight the decision

A federal judge in Anchorage has quashed President Trump’s 2017 executive order overturning Obama-era restrictions to expansion of offshore drilling in the Arctic ocean and canyons in the Atlantic Ocean.

U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason ruled on March 29 in Anchorage that Trump’s executive order, which purported to revoke prior presidential withdrawals of Outer Continental Shelf lands for leasing, is unlawful and exceed the president’s authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Those withdrawals “will remain in full force and effect unless and until revoked by Congress,” Gleason wrote in the 32-page decision.

The offshore drilling bans were issued by President Barack Obama to protect polar bears, walruses and ice seals, as well as the lifestyle of subsistence hunters who live in coastal Arctic communities.

The lawsuit against Trump, the American Petroleum Institute and the state of Alaska was brought by the Alaska Wilderness League, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace, the League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society, who were represented by the environmental law firm Earthjustice.

“This ruling tosses out President Trump’s unlawful order, reinstates protections for the Arctic Ocean and key areas in the Atlantic and reaffirms that President Trump is not above the law,” said Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen. “The decision will force the Trump administration and acting Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt to reconsider their irresponsible national offshore leasing program that would turn our oceans into gas stations. It will also support the fight to oppose this administration’s ongoing attempts to roll back national monuments.”

“Trump can’t ignore the law in his reckless rush to open our oceans to dangerous drilling,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ve always maintained that Obama permanently protected most of the Arctic and parts of the Atlantic, protection Trump can’t easily undo. This ruling is a huge victory for Arctic wildlife, East Coast communities and our climate.”


Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she strongly disagreed with the judge’s decision that only Congress can overturn such decisions by former presidents.

“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” she said.

She said she expects Gleason’s decision to be appealed and ultimately overturned, if not by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, then by the Supreme Court.

Murkowski cited Interior Department estimates that the Beaufort and Chukchi seas hold an estimated 23.6 billion barrels of oil and 104.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said he was disappointed by the ruling and its implications for the state and national economy.

“Alaska’s potential offshore oil and gas deposits, if given the opportunity to be safely and responsibly developed can create jobs, revenue and economic opportunity for decades,” Dunleavy said. He vowed to work with the state’s congressional delegation to overturn Obama’s executive order on the offshore drilling ban.