Trump Hits Major Stumbling Block After Judge Rules His Executive Order On Arctic Drilling "Unlawful"

Obama's restrictions were introduced to protect wildlife (including polar bears) and Alaskan Native villages. Asmus Koeford/Shutterstock

Trump's reversal of Obama-era restrictions on Arctic and Atlantic drilling has now itself been reversed. In a ruling made late Friday, US district court judge Sharon Gleason said the current president had "exceeded his authority" in dismantling the protections introduced by his predecessor.

Gleason's decision rests on the idea that while a president might remove certain lands from development, a president cannot revoke those removals under federal law. Trump's actions, she says, were "unlawful". 

"The wording of President Obama’s 2015 and 2016 withdrawals indicates that he intended them to extend indefinitely, and therefore be revocable only by an act of Congress," said Gleason, Associated Press reports.

The withdrawals she refers to here involve more than 50.6 million hectares (125 million acres) of marine territory in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.

Between 2015 and 2016, then-president Obama sighed a series of memoranda and an executive order to protect these territories from oil and gas extraction. But within months of taking office, president Trump signed an executive order withdrawing the protections to pave the way for an ambitious and incredibly controversial oil and gas haul.

Gleason's ruling follows a lawsuit brought to court by a group of environmental groups, including Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and The Wilderness Society, and comes the same week as a separate ruling temporarily blocking oil and gas projects in Wyoming.

It will no doubt come as a blow to the Trump administration, not to mention fossil fuel executives hoping to make big bucks on the vast expanse of lucrative land lying in the icy climes of the Arctic and Antarctic. 

"Offshore drilling and the associated threat of devastating oil spills puts coastal economies and ways of life at risk while worsening the consequences of climate change,"  president of the League of Conservation Voters, Gene Karpinski, who was also lead plaintiff in the case, said in a statement, CNN reports.

"President Trump wanted to erase all the environmental progress we've made, but we fought back and we won."

Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute – a pro-fossil fuel lobby group and a defendant in the case – has criticized the ruling, citing the economy.

"In addition to bringing supplies of affordable energy to consumers for decades to come, developing our abundant offshore resources can provide billions in government revenue, create thousands of jobs and will also strengthen our national security," a spokesperson said in a statement, The New York Times reports.

So, what next? 

Technically, the Trump administration can appeal the ruling. Alternatively, Congress may choose to revoke the withdrawals themselves. As for the latter, it is unlikely to progress very far with the Democrats holding the majority in the House. 

And so, at least for now, the Trump administration will have to comply.

"This victory shows that no one, not even Trump, is above the law," Karpinski said.

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