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Federal appeals court rejects DOJ request to reinstate oil drilling ban

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] on Thursday rejected a request [opinion, PDF] from the Obama administration to stay a preliminary injunction lifting the government's six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling [JURIST reports]. The three-judge panel ruled that US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar [official profile] "failed to demonstrate a likelihood of irreparable injury if the stay is not granted." The moratorium was issued in May in response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and was subsequently enjoined by a Louisiana district judge after a suit was filed by small oil companies affected by the ban. The district judge concluded that the blanket moratorium was arbitrary and capricious and that the administration had considered no alternative resolutions. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] asked the appeals court in June to stay the injunction, claiming the district judge abused his discretion [JURIST report] and that another deepwater spill could overwhelm the ongoing efforts to clean up the spill with catastrophic results. In a response brief filed Tuesday with the appeals court, the DOJ argued that the moratorium should be reinstated [JURIST report] because the government will likely win its appeal of the lower court's ruling. The US government has yet to make an official response to the circuit court's decision.

Last week, the US House of Representatives [official website] approved a bill [HR 5503 materials] that would increase compensation [JURIST report] for injured workers and victims' families that have filed claims against BP as a result of the oil spill. Calls for criminal and civil actions have been mounting against BP as evidence of the oil company's lack of proper compliance with regulations has come out. Two lawsuits were recently filed [JURIST report] against BP alleging violations of the Rackteer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) [18 USC § 1961 et seq.]. Last month, US President Barack Obama [official website] announced the government's latest plan of action for tackling the oil spill, which includes a $20 billion compensation fund [JURIST reports] subsidized by BP. The escrow fund [government backgrounder] will be used to indemnify the workers and business owners harmed as a result of the oil spill. The announcement also included a long-term restoration plan and prevention of future disasters [JURIST report] through stronger regulation. More than 120 million gallons of oil have leaked already from the rig's broken pipe and has now surpassed the Exxon Valdez [JURIST news archive] as the worst oil spill in US history.

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