As the Trump Administration prepares to release its proposed federal offshore leasing program, it faces a new legal obstacle.
In a resounding win for ocean and wildlife conservation, a federal court in Alaska has ruled that President Trump's order to overturn permanent bans on oil and gas leasing in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans is unlawful.
The executive order issued in April 2017 sought to reopen vast swaths of the U.S. Arctic, along with 31 deepwater canyons in the Atlantic - areas designated for protection by the previous administration.
"For an administration rushing to expose nearly all our coasts to the dangers of oil and gas leasing, this court decision is a bright red stop sign," says Niel Lawrence, senior attorney and director of the Alaska Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"Trump exceeded his constitutional powers in trying to undo the ban on leasing in these areas, and the court recognized it."
"This decision makes it clear that the law does not grant the President the authority to reverse these kinds of permanent protections for our natural resources and wildlife," Lawrence concludes.
The court declared that ocean areas permanently withdrawn from Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing in 2015 and 2016 - a total of 128 million acres - are fully protected from offshore leasing "unless and until" Congress revokes that protection.
NRDC and Earthjustice filed the lawsuit in May 2017 on behalf of a coalition of indigenous and environmental groups.