Trump’s Order to Open Arctic Waters to Oil Drilling Was Unlawful, Federal Judge Finds – The New York Times

“The statutes and the Supreme Court have been silent on the authority of a president to modify or reduce a predecessor’s protections of these public lands, waters and monuments,” said Patrick Parenteau, a professor of environmental law at Vermont Law School. “But these decisions are showing that if a president wants to reverse a predecessor’s environmental policy, they have to give a cogent reason why. Just saying ‘energy dominance’ is not enough. Saying ‘I won the election’ is not enough.”

Professor Parenteau predicted that the case was likely to reach the Supreme Court, though probably not for several years.

Both Mr. Obama’s efforts to use his executive authority to ban drilling in the Arctic Ocean, and Mr. Trump’s efforts to undo that ban, are legally unprecedented.

In using his executive authority to permanently ban drilling in most of the Arctic Ocean, Mr. Obama relied on an obscure provision of a 1953 law, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which governs how the executive branch uses federal waters for offshore energy exploration.

The law includes a provision that lets presidents put those waters off limits to oil and gas drilling. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon and Mr. Clinton used the law to protect sections of the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans, but those protections came with time limits, usually one to two decades.

In late 2016, as he sought to legally cement environmental protections before Mr. Trump, then the president-elect, took office, Mr. Obama used what both supporters and critics called a creative and unusual interpretation of that law to set a permanent ban on drilling in most of the Arctic Ocean.

Three months after taking office, Mr. Trump issued an executive order rescinding the ban. That made him the first president to seek to revoke a decision by his predecessor to use the law to protect federal waters.


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