Judges rule against Obama administration on offshore oil drilling moratorium

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled late Thursday afternoon against the Obama administration in the ongoing legal battle over a moratorium on drilling for oil in offshore waters. The quick ruling came as a surprise, since Judge W. Eugene Davis had told the overflowing courtroom at the conclusion of the hearing that the decision would be handed down early next week.

The  Department of Interior was petitioning to reinstate its ban on new offshore oil-drilling leases at sites in water more than 500 feet deep. At issue was the June 22 order by Judge Martin Feldman of the Eastern District Court in New Orleans overturning the moratorium. Feldman in ruled in Hornbeck v. Salazar that the drilling moratorium was over-broad and illegal. The case was brought by a coalition of businesses affected negatively by the drilling ban, led by Hornbeck Offshore Services of Covington, La. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was petitioning for a stay of Feldman’s decision, an order which would keep the moratorium in place pending a full appeal before the court several weeks from now.

Justice Department attorney Michael Gray, appearing on behalf of the Interior Department, told the court that the District Court had “abused its discretion” in overturning the moratorium. Gray went back and forth with the panel over how much harm the plaintiffs in the case could expect if the stay was granted, and if the Interior Department would suffer “irreparable harm” if the stay was denied.

The plaintiffs’ lead counsel, Carl Rosenbloom, told the court that it was not Feldman who abused his discretion, but Salazar. Rosenbloom told the court that “all the plaintiffs want is for the government to follow the rules” and that the rules do not give Salazar carte blanche to suspend drilling operations but rather require a “rational basis” before the interior secretary can use his congressionally authorized emergency power to suspend drilling operations. Plaintiffs argued that Salazar had acted “irrationally” in placing a “blanket indiscriminate moratorium” on all deep-water offshore drilling before gathering the facts on what happened during the Deepwater Horizon rig blowout.

Also at issue in the arguments were comments by the Obama administration that it might impose a second moratorium if this one did not hold up. Hornbeck’s counsel argued “the suggestion of a second moratorium is …  an attempt to intimidate this court. This overarching threat, we suggest, is an affront to the standards of judicial review.”

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  • clw

    “Dart argued that Salazar failed to consult with Louisiana at all before issuing the moratorium, a violation of Title 43 U.S. Code 1334a”. Obama’s team appears to be a little impulisive and not very adept at the law. (This bodes well for the AZ case). Obama may have a decent educational foundation for law, but a practical, experiential foundation for winning lawsuits, or a history of winning large awsuits? I don’t know about that. He’s got *alls alright, but he seems to be all about legal intimidation. I am so sick of this guys “audacity”. He needs to be thrown out and SOON. We need to get someone with an OUNCE of competence in the White House before he bankrupts every one of us AND this nation! I don’t think he’ll be happy until he does!

    • billbrady

      “I don’t think he’ll be happy until he does”. BINGO…… That’s exactly what he’s doing, knowingly, with forethought, and completely against the will of the people. We are nothing but serfs in the eyes of this administration. Welcome to the collective.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-L-Whitford/1677295760 Richard L. Whitford

    “Judge Jerry E. Smith leaned toward the judge, while Judge James L. Dennis said Salazar “is entitled to a lot of deference.” Dennis partially dissented in the ruling, saying that he would have let the moratorium remain in place.

    “Why are we in a position to second-guess the secretary on whether or not there’s a threat of irreparable harm?” Dennis asked at the hearing.” Quoted from a different post but we do need to use common sense and common sense should tell us there are lots of wells in the Gulf at varying depths and no problem to date. Just the Deepwater Horizon with strong indicators of human error and faulty judgment on the part of BP. This should be the exception while Salazar is trying to make it the rule. Agenda? The (lack of?) works speaks with a very loud voice in what our government has not done to control this spill.
    Rosenbloom told the court that “all the plaintiffs want is for the government to follow the rules” and that the rules do not give Salazar carte blanche to suspend drilling operations but rather require a “rational basis” before the interior secretary can use his congressionally authorized emergency power to suspend drilling operations.

    This is not a technical problem as outlined by the safety record of the oil industry. Drilling always faces unknowns and some of these unknowns have made violent appearances, yet we learn and overcome. There is fairly strong evidence that
    BP was ignoring some of the known hazard in drilling which rose up and violently responded. That has nothing to do with the rest of the drilling going on. There are always a danger from these human failings and the administration has not been pro environment or pro safety but diligently anti-business a la Marxist Anti-Profit. They have been anti-energy, anti-coal, anti-oil and pro Global Warming, using global warming as the fulcrum to push their anti-progress agenda. Common sense is a hindrance to their progressive-ism.

    Deep water drilling was developed first in Europe because that is where they found the oil they needed. To date I know of no serious problem encountered with the technology. They even developed dynamic positioning for water too deep to make anchoring practical. Brazil was believed to be oil poor till they started searching their off shore waters and made big strikes. It is not the deep water drilling that is at risk. It is just more expensive and difficult that shallow water and dry land. We have lots of oil potential on dry land without the deep water drilling but our government has been diligently blocking all oil exploration for unknown reasons that must be political in nature. There are no technical reason not to use our available resources, just cautions that we need to follow.

    I do not need to repeat billbrady’s comments because he is on target. We don’t need laws and lawyers to define common sense but we do need them to make use of common sense, which is about as common as hen’s teeth in that profession. Agenda or intent being much more common. Yet we still have lawyers and judges who do possess and practice common sense. Both our governor, Bobby Jindal and Judge Martin Feldman showing their common sense while the government is showing its ant-energy agenda.

    • oeno

      One quibble, aside from use of the term Marxist. If the law was written to give the Interior Secretary the ability to do this sort of thing on a “rational basis” what the hell is that supposed to mean? I go to Starbucks for a cup of coffee after my wife leaves for work instead of making a second pot, even though on a “rational basis” it’s cheaper to just make a second pot and throw out the rest. This sort of slipshod lawmaking has allowed the EPA to take over the Carbon emissions, because the Clean Air Act is getting a little long in the tooth, and well, vague.

  • katnandu

    Executive power ruled ………no…………….sweet! I love the constitution!

    • oeno

      Not exactly. A District Court judge ruled against the administration. Now a truncated part of the appeals court said, “No. We won’t uphold the moratorium, because only an idiot would drill before it’s heard before the whole court. Which by the way will be the end of August.” So by the time the full court hears the appeal roughly four months will have passed of a six month moratorium.

  • oeno

    I said when the moratorium was announced that there was no way that it would be lifted. It’s just the way the Federal Court system operates. So a District Court judge says no to moratorium? Kick it upstairs to the Appeal court Oh. You mean it’s only 3 members? Ask for a full hearing. That can’t be heard for over a month and a half? Go ahead and get that deep well up and running, knowing that in a month and a half it may be halted.