Judge Richard Gergel, U.S. District Court in South Carolina, has halted the Trump administration’s effort to continue processing permits to allow seismic testing off the Atlantic coast during the partial government shutdown.
Gergel, appointed by President Barack Obama, ruled last week in a case left-wing environmental groups, some coastal cities, and businesses brought against the Department of Interior “opposed to the administration’s efforts to expand U.S. offshore drilling,” Offshore Engineer Digital reported.
Gergel made the ruling in conjunction with granting a stay to the Department of Justice, which argued it could not process the case during a government shutdown.
Gergel said in his decision that he would grant the stay but said federal authorities could not work on seismic permitting until the government re-opens and is funded.
The Interior Department has recalled employees, including those at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), to continue working on permitting for onshore and offshore oil and gas drilling and testing despite the shutdown, drawing criticism from Democrats and environmentalists.
“The Court hereby enjoins the federal defendants, BOEM, and any other federal agency or entity from taking action to promulgate permits, otherwise approve or take any other official action regarding the pending permit applications for oil and gas surveys in the Atlantic,” Gergel wrote in the order.
“BOEM spokeswoman Connie Gillette said the agency will comply with the judge’s order but could not comment further due to the pending litigation,” Offshore Engineer Digital reported.
EcoWatch put a leftist spin on its reporting, calling the ruling “good news” during the “terrible partial government shutdown.”
EcoWatch reported on the Southern Environmental Law Center’s “celebratory” press release.
“The government was trying to have its cake and eat it too, and we’re pleased the Court did not allow that to happen,” Laura Cantral, executive director of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, one of the plaintiffs suing to stop seismic blasting in the Atlantic, said in the press release. “This is an issue of critical importance to the coast, and one that must be handled openly, transparently, and fairly.”
A newly elected House Democrat, Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC), introduced a bill that would put a ten-year moratorium on drilling off the Atlantic Coast and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, EcoWatch reported.
“I applaud the decision of the federal court to block the Trump administration from issuing permits to conduct seismic testing during this government shutdown,” Cunningham said in a press release. “As I have said before, any step towards offshore drilling is a step in the wrong direction,”
Despite the left’s enthusiasm over the ruling, offshore permitting and testing could resume after the federal government is funded.
The case is South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, et al. v. Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce, United States District Court in South Carolina, Docket 75, an order granting a stay and all, writs act injunction.
Follow Penny Starr on Twitter.