President Donald Trump signed an executive order on energy in the Roosevelt Room at The White House to expand off-shore drilling in April 2017. Nearly two years later, a federal judge has ruled that the executive order was illegal. File photo by Eric Thayer/UPI | License Photo
March 30 (UPI) -- A federal judge has ruled that the Trump administration's plans to reverse an Obama-era ban on oil and gas drilling in federal waters is illegal.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason in Alaska's ruling late Friday protects more than 120 million acres of federal waters in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans from drilling.
The decision, posted on Earthjustice's website, stemmed from a coalition of environmental group's challenges to President Donald Trump's order in April 2017 to revoke the 2015 and 2016 withdrawal of such drilling by President Barack Obama.
"We argued that President Trump lacks the authority to undo those (original) protections," said Erik Grafe, a staff attorney of Earthjustice, which represents 10 of the environmental groups. "Today, a federal judge agreed with us, and upheld that President Trump exceeded the law."
Gleason cited the plaintiff's claims that federal law "... only authorizes a president to withdraw lands from disposition; it does not authorize a President to revoke a prior withdrawal. Plaintiffs assert that under the Property Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the authority to revoke a prior withdrawal was not delegated by this statute to the President and thus remains vested solely with Congress."
The ruling retains Obama's ban against drilling in most of the Arctic Ocean and sections of Atlantic, including undersea canyons, from Chesapeake Bay to New England.
Obama had used a provision of a 1953 law, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, allowing presidents to put federal waters off limits of oil and gas drilling, for his offshore drilling ban.
The American Petroleum Institute intervened as a defendant.
While the API "disagrees with the decision, our nation still has a significant opportunity before us in the development of the next offshore leasing plan to truly embrace our nation's energy potential," Erik Milito, vice president of upstream and industry operations for the API, said in a statement to The Washington Post. v"In addition to bringing supplies of affordable energy to consumers for decades to come," the group wrote, "developing our abundant offshore resources can provide billions in government revenue, create thousands of jobs and will also strengthen our national security."
The ruling is the third legal setback this week to Trump administration's plans to revoke Obama-era conservation policies. A federal judge also blocked plans to build a road through an Alaska wildlife refuge, saying it violated federal law this week, saying it would violate federal law. Earlier this week, another federal judge in Colorado also ruled that administrators in the Department of Interior illegally approved two gas plans in western Colorado, since they failed to adequately analyze the plans impacts.