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Offshore Drilling Ban Nixed: Judge Calls Obama Edict 'Overbearing'

4 years ago
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In stern and unsparing language, a noted federal trial judge in Louisiana Tuesday blocked the Obama administration from implementing its heavily publicized and politically charged sixth-month moratorium on offshore drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The Justice Department and the White House immediately announced that the ruling would be appealed in an effort to revive the moratorium, which was quickly issued on May 28 as the scope of the Gulf oil spill became more fully understood.

"If some drilling equipment parts are flawed, U.S. District Judge Martin L.C. Feldman wrote in his 22-page order, "is it rational to say all are? Are all airplanes a danger because one was? All oil tankers like Exxon Valdez? All trains? All mines? That sort of thinking seems heavy handed, and rather overbearing." Later calling the moratorium an "arbitrary and capricious" use of the administrative power of the Department of the Interior and the Minerals Management Service, the judge granted a request by several offshore-drilling-related companies for a court order that would allow drilling to continue in the Gulf for 33 licensed operators. Otherwise, he found, those companies would continue to suffer irreparable injuries as a result of the drilling ban.

Often outspoken about issues relating to the Gulf, Judge Feldman is a 1983 appointee of Ronald Reagan. He was recently named by United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to a six-year tour of duty on the nation's secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. In 1957, fresh out of law school, Judge Feldman served as legendary U.S. District Judge Minor Wisdom's first law clerk and has been recognized since for his work about judging scientific testimony.

"[T]he blanket moratorium," the veteran judge wrote, "with no parameters, seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger." Worse, he wrote, the Interior Department/MMS report upon which the moratorium was based was fatally flawed. "The report patently lacks any analysis of the asserted fear of threat of irreparable injury or safety hazards posed by the thirty-three permitted rigs also reached by the moratorium. It is incident specific and driven: Deepwater Horizon and BP only. None others." As a result, Judge Feldman wrote, the Court "is unable to divine or fathom a relationship between the findings and the immense scope of the moratorium."

While the Justice Department contemplates the terms of its appeal, the Interior Department surely will be reviewing its policies and procedures in light of the some of the judge's more colorful observations. For example, in a footnote late in the ruling, Judge Feldman unloaded on what he considered the Interior's shoddy written work:

"Indeed, while the government makes light of the fact that several of the experts disagree with the recommendations in the Report by noting that they do not disagree with the findings, of greater concern is the misleading text in the Executive Summary that seems to assert that all the experts agree with the Secretary's recommendation. The government's hair-splitting explanation abuses reason, common sense, and the text at issue." (Emphasis added).

As a legal matter, it is quite rare for a federal judge to accuse the federal government of outright deception. And surely as a political matter the language and tone of the judge's ruling make things particularly dicey for leaders at the Interior Department and the MMS. Can their derided and beleaguered experts now answer the many questions raised by Judge Feldman as well as the ones surely to come from the judges on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals? Has the science and evidence behind the call for the moratorium become any stronger in the past month since the report was issued? And who is responsible for the "misleading text" noted by the federal judge?

In any event, we now know that Judge Feldman thinks very little indeed about the government's factual support for the moratorium or the link between the valid evidence presented in support of the drilling ban and the conclusions reached by the administrators in announcing it. The question is whether the appeals court judges of both the 5th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court will share his skepticism or whether they will be willing to grant more deference to the executive branch as it maneuvers through the oil spill crisis. But for now, at least, it's drill baby drill in the Gulf.

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22 Comments

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Bonbon

Did Obama give the 900,000 back to BP they donated to his campaign? anyone know?

June 23 2010 at 9:59 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Nettie

GOOD FOR THE JUDGE,MAYBE OBAMA SHOULD SPEND MORE TIME TRYING TO SOLVE THIS CRISIS AND LESS TIME PLAYING GOLF!

June 23 2010 at 7:04 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
hlclay

This judge seems to be accusing the administration of all kinds of misdeeds, I wonder if him having stock shares in various oil companies had any bearing on his decision.

June 23 2010 at 3:19 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
copperkettle3

The judge compared this to shutting down the airline industry if a plane crashes? This plane has been crashing for two months. This is more like a nuclear bomb going off in the Gulf and the devastation is continuing because those who are supposed to be able to stop the leak, B.P. and private industry, can drill the wells, but can't fix their own mistakes. If government was in the oil industry, drilling and refining, they could be held accountable. But this is precisely a problem of deregulation of private industry who we are dependent on to fix the problems that they create. They have shown that they can't. So changes must be made, sadly after we learn a very costly lesson.

June 23 2010 at 1:08 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
joe

I knew it was coming but now the media is putting out reports that the Judge may have stock holdings in several oil industry companies. What does having stock in oil have to do with interpreting the law when the federal government abuses it's authority?

June 23 2010 at 11:34 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
sgdbaty13

Yea you get em judge. We can't even cap the mess that is currently out there, so by all means drill baby drill. Why don't we just kill off the Gulf of Mexico and be done with it? Shame on us all for not looking past our own puny lives.

June 23 2010 at 11:33 AM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
walkingman50

I noticed that AOL had an article that showed Judge Feldman had a small investment in the oil drilling industry. The article did not point out that the President that stopped the drilling had given 2 BILLION DOLLARS to develop the Brazillian deep water drilling industry and that Obama's backstage mentor George Soros had just invested 900 MILLION DOLLARS in that same Brazillian industry. I guess you can't accuse AOL of that 'fair and balanced' thing.

June 23 2010 at 11:24 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
jmbcorex

get em judge...i spent years in the oil industry and the specious lies put forth by the has beens in obamas administration...well...they should be taken out behind the woodshed where i would open a can of "whoopass"

June 22 2010 at 11:48 PM Report abuse +14 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jmbcorex's comment
vobox3343

So, there is no oil spill, and the statements coming from a worker who survived the explosion exposing how BP ignored safety concerns, even shutting down an important safety device in order to keep pumping, has all been made up? Hey, this judge has, in many ways, adopted that exact same principle - keep the oil comin'. In a court room, the judge, if when a defendant tells even one little white lie, loses all credibility and to jail he goes. And as far as the judge saying that just because x,y and z happens to one thing, it doesn't apply to everything. That's the same attitude that has caused additional miners to lose their lives - shame!

June 23 2010 at 12:23 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Big Daddy

Since all of the oil companys submited the exact same plan for a disaster according to congressional testimony they should have their permits revocked, if any one of us was to file bogus papers with a permit application we would be lucky if we didn't go to jail. As far as sasfety inspections goes materials managment exempted all of them so we don't know what they are doing out there. For a state thats whining about the govt. not doing enough to clean up the oil, to push for more drilling by companys that have no supervision shows total lack of concern for the people of the gulf in favor of business as usual.

June 22 2010 at 11:40 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
sonny

It is good to know there are judges who use common sense. They would not lie,
they had just "misspoken". They would not lie, just tell the truth(as they
distort it, 12 different ways). Good point. Obama is not a dictator yet.
He is a judge and this iragwardeficitidiot thinks he is so smart and he is so smug and arrogant like his hero Obama. He is smarter than the judge and everyone else. When the current adminstration does anything wrong and anyone calls attention to it, the only answer that his supporters can muster starts
with "Bush or Cheney". DIVERSION.

June 22 2010 at 11:26 PM Report abuse +14 rate up rate down Reply

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