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WASHINGTON — In the face of a sustained legal challenge by environmental groups, the Department of Interior has decided it will not presently pursue a plan to drill for oil and gas in the coastal waters of the United States. The decision appears to hamper President Trump’s plan for “energy independence,” which relies heavily on domestic fossil fuel extraction.
The decision comes a little less than a month after Alaska federal district Judge Sharon Gleason ruled the executive order that allowed for the drilling was “unlawful” and “exceeded the President’s authority” because it had not been subject to the proper congressional oversight.
That ruling effectively protected 128 million acres from energy exploration, including ecologically sensitive areas off the coast of Alaska and elsewhere.
News that offshore drilling plan had suffered a major setback was broken by the Wall Street Journal, which reported on Thursday that the initiative had been “sidelined indefinitely.”
The Department of Interior has tried to downplay the significance of the development. “Given the recent court decision, the Department is simply evaluating all of its options to determine the best pathway to accomplish the mission entrusted to it by the President,” Interior spokesperson Faith Vander Voort told Yahoo News. She would not say whether the White House had instructed the department to drop the offshore drilling plan.
The move was also a blow to industries that would have benefited from an expansion of domestic energy extraction. Trump had been promising such an expansion, both offshore and on land, since his presidential campaign. Said Jason McFarland, president of the International Association of Drilling Contractors, an industry lobbying group: “IADC is disappointed with the decision to indefinitely delay a new 5-year exploration and development plan for the U.S. While many might cheer this decision, the fact remains that global oil and natural gas consumption will continue to rise for decades to come and the U.S. has abundant natural resources that can supply this market, which will create jobs here in the U.S., boost our economy while at the same time doing so in a safe and environmentally sound manner.”
Environmental groups, however, celebrated the news as a victory against an administration intent on maintaining the primacy of fossil fuels in the nation’s energy portfolio.
"This is welcome news and a reminder that this is a nation of laws and the Trump administration is not immune to those laws,” said Erik Grafe, a staff attorney for Earthjustice, one of the environmental groups that sued Trump over the offshore drilling plan. “There should not be expanded oil and gas leasing in our oceans.”
The plan was also opposed by people in some coastal states, including Florida and North Carolina, who could be critical to Trump’s reelection prospects next year.
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