US environmental group sues to reinstate drilling moratorium

US environmental group sues to reinstate drilling moratorium

Photo source or description

[JURIST] The Center for Biological Diversity [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF, press release] Friday against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, seeking to have the deepwater drilling moratorium [JURIST news archive] reinstated. The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website], argues that Salazar’s order to lift the ban without conducting a comprehensive review of the effects of drilling on wildlife and the environment violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) [42 USC § 4321-4347] and is arbitrary and capricious. Earlier this month, Salazar announced the end of a six-month moratorium [JURIST report] on certain types of deepwater oil drilling, seven weeks ahead of schedule. The moratorium was put in place following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill [JURIST news archive] in April, in which the Center states spilled more than “200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.” In explaining the need for the reinstatement, the center said:

The Secretary’s failure to include and inform the public in NEPA’s decisionmaking process violates NEPA’s requirement that agencies make the relevant information available to the public so that it may also play a role in both the decision-making process and the implementation of the proposed activity. In the aftermath of the worst environmental disaster in American history it is arbitrary and capricious and in violation of NEPA for the Secretary to withhold from public notice, comment, and review the Environmental Assessment prior to making his decision.

The lawsuit comes as the Department of Interior (DOI) [official website] is considering granting the first drilling permit [WP report] since lifting the moratorium.

In lifting the drilling ban, Salazar said that new drilling regulations enacted earlier this month [JURIST report] and industry safety strategies developed in the wake of the spill have reduced the likelihood of future incidents such that the ban is no longer needed. Salazar said that, while he is satisfied with recent progress, efforts to tighten safety regulations on deepwater drilling operations would continue. Last month, a federal judge denied [JURIST report] the government’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by several drilling companies challenging the latest offshore drilling moratorium. The ruling held that there were “no substantial changes” between the July 12 directive and its predecessor, issued on May 28, that the new moratorium did nothing to amend or prevent the wrongs found in the first and that the wrongful behavior alleged in the original order could reasonably be expected to occur as a result of the more recent iteration. The US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website] rejected a request to reinstate [JURIST report] the May 28 ban in July, weeks after the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] similarly declined [JURIST report].