Chief U.S. District Judge William Steele in Mobile, Ala., has ruled for the federal government in a lawsuit accusing regulators of short-cutting permitting rules to oil drillers in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The environmental group, Defenders of Wildlife, filed the suit in 2010 against what was then known as the Minerals Management Agency for accepting some 300 bids from oil companies for drilling leases in the Gulf after the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. The group sought a court order vacating all leases granted after the oil spill. The group also sought an order requiring the agency to take the effects of the spill into account in evaluating future lease sales.
Judge Steele ruled that granting the bids did not prevent the agency — now known as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management — from later conducting a more rigorous review taking into account new information provided by the spill. It was very clear that Judge Steele made it clear in his ruling that his review was narrow, when he wrote:
In considering these claims, this Court’s inquiry is not whether it agrees with BOEM’s actions, or whether it would have proceeded differently had it been standing in BOEM’s shoes on April 20, 2010.
Judge Steele determined that the Plaintiff had not met its burden of proving that the agency acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in implementing the bid approval process. He wrote to that issue:
This case is confined to the narrow question of ESA compliance at the lease sale stage, and this Court will not overstep jurisdictional and pleading boundaries to evaluate the agency’s compliance (or lack thereof) at subsequent stages.
According to lawyers for the wildlife group, the limited effect of the ruling is crucial because it means environmentalists will have a chance to challenge the agency as drillers move into the exploration and production phases. Cattorine Wannamaker, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center organization, who represented Defenders of Wildlife in this case, believes the Court has left open the “possibility of further review.”
Federal regulators concluded in 2007 that the risk of an oil spill harming endangered species and their habitats was small. They determined that no coastal spills were projected to occur in Alabama, Mississippi or Florida as a result of drilling leases then under consideration. The National Marine Fisheries Service, for instance, wrote that if a large spill occurred, the oil would “rapidly spread out, evaporate, and weather,, quickly becoming dispersed into the water column.” Reality has shown that the regulators were wrong in their projections. The problems still exist in the Gulf and will for a very long time.
Source: Mobile Press-Register
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