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Federal Judge Halts Offshore Oil Drilling Permits During Government Shutdown
January 24, 2019

north atlantic right whale number 2791 swims with her calf off the coast of georgia in january of 2019

North Atlantic right whale #2791 swims with her new calf off the coast of Amelia Island, Georgia on January 7, 2019. Seismic blasting is a horrific and unnatural assault on the life that resides in the oceans and would be devastating to this highly endangered North Atlantic right whale and her precious calf. This calf is one of just three born so far this year and one of only 8 born in the past three years (one of whom, the calf of #4094, was killed in 2017).
credit: Georgia DNR and Sea to Shore Alliance, permit #20556-01

The Associated Press reports that U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel, a federal judge in South Carolina, has stopped "federal Defendants, BOEM [Bureau of Ocean Energy Management], 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.Ē The permits that the government is seeking would begin the seismic blasting that would be done in order to start drilling for oil off the east coast of the United States and the judge has blocked them, at least until the government shutdown ends. The government is now in the midst of the largest shutdown in American history, with 800,000 federal workers going unpaid, but the Associated Press reported that the Trump administration decided to "recall workers at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management so they could continue to process testing permits for possible drilling off the Atlantic coastline. The recall drew an objection from the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee chairman, Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona. He called on Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to reverse course or provide a briefing on the legal justification for the move."

The AP also reported, "Earlier this month, South Carolina joined a federal lawsuit opposing the administrationís plans to conduct offshore drilling tests using seismic air guns. Gergel is overseeing that case, initially filed by environmental groups and municipalities along the stateís coast. The suit challenges permits for the testing that precedes the drilling itself. It claims the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act in issuing the permits." We wrote about the seismic blasting and the lawsuit challenging it in our 2018 report, Trump Administration Approves Seismic Blasting in Atlantic Ocean. We also wrote about the shutdown when it was first starting back in late December of 2018 and now the effects of it on North Atlantic right whale protection efforts are getting even worse so the blocking of any new permits while the shutdown continues is a silver lining in what has mostly been bad news regarding the shutdown.

National parks are also going largely unstaffed but are still open, the equivalent of leaving a museum open but having no security staff. There have been many reports of significant amounts of trash and human waste piling up in the parks and physical damage such as sacred trees at Joshua Tree National Park that have been cut down. And, at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, at least three black bears have been poached since the start of the shutdown.

The Trump administration tried to bring back furloughed workers just to process seismic blasting permits in order to serve the oil industry and help them to make more profits as they ramp up their destruction of the natural world, all while 800,000 federal workers, many federal contractors, other businesses that rely on federal workers and their families struggle without paychecks - many of them still being forced to work. Even active-duty Coast Guard members are forced to wait in line at food banks just so they can eat because they're not being paid. The natural world that is supposed to be protected by some of the agencies affected by the shutdown is being destroyed and federal workers and their families are suffering yet the government is still open for business when it comes to serving the oil industry. The level of callousness, arrogance and greed of this administration clearly knows no bounds and this crisis doesn't appear to have an end in sight.

To find out more about what is happening to North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales and how we can all take actions in our everyday lives to protect them, please visit our Facts and Action sections on our website. We also post updates and pictures on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter.

More Information:

Court: No new offshore drilling work during federal shutdown - Associated Press via Washington Post

SC court rules permits canít go out for seismic testing offshore - The Post and Courier