This afternoon, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a motion by the U.S. Justice Department to suspend District Judge Martin Feldman’s ruling in the Hornbeck v. Salazar case throwing out the Department of the Interior moratorium on deepwater offshore drilling.
The Justice Department had attempted to get the 5th Circuit to overrule Feldman and immediately reinstate the moratorium. They failed in that attempt; from a legal standpoint, the moratorium has no effect (though from a practical standpoint, government actions have made Gulf deepwater drilling difficult if not impossible). It’s the second attempt by the federal government to reimpose the moratorium struck down by a federal court.
More on this as it develops.
UPDATE: You can listen to the oral arguments in today’s hearing here. It begins with DOJ lawyer Michael Thomas Gray getting pounded by the appellate judges on the question of “irreparable harm.”
UPDATE #2: The decision was unanimous (if you’ve listened to the oral arguments that’s not much of a surprise – what the judges did to DOJ lawyer Michael Thomas Gray was like something Ned Beatty went through in Deliverance, and here’s what it said:
“The secretary has failed to demonstrate a likelihood of irreparable injury if the stay is not granted,” the appeals court said. “He has made no showing that there is any likelihood that drilling activities will be resumed pending appeal.”
UPDATE #3:A statement from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal:
“We’re pleased the court did not reinstate the moratorium. However, it’s clear from the ruling that this matter is not resolved and there remains uncertainty about the future of deepwater drilling and thousands of jobs in our state.
“We have very serious concerns that the Department of Interior is going to announce a second moratorium. As members of the court pointed out today during the hearing, despite the injunction against the original moratorium, we currently have a de facto moratorium because of uncertainty from the Department of Interior.
“It was clear again from today’s court arguments that the Secretary of the Interior ignored the advice of his own experts. The Secretary’s six-month moratorium was not related to the facts provided by his own hand-selected experts. Indeed, the Judge in the original case said the Department of Interior’s report to shut down deepwater drilling was inaccurate and misleading. He said the Department’s statement that their report’s recommendations were ‘peer-reviewed by seven experts identified by the National Academy of Engineering’ was misleading and that five of the National Academy experts and three of the other experts have publicly stated that they do not agree with the six month blanket moratorium.’
“The arguments at today’s hearing continue to show that the Administration’s six-month blanket moratorium was both arbitrary and capricious. The reality is that we absolutely want drilling to be done safely and do not want another spill or one more drop of oil on our coast or in our water, but thousands of Louisianians should not have to lose their jobs because the federal government can’t adequately do its job of ensuring drilling is done safely. The hearing today showed again that there is no clear pathway from the federal government about how to increase the safety of drilling.
“The federal government has an entire agency dedicated to monitoring safe drilling. It shouldn’t take them six-months or longer for a new national commission to ensure safety measures are in place and their laws and regulations are being followed. Instead of an arbitrary moratorium, the Department of Interior should have listened to their experts and enacted the specific recommended steps from their own experts to ensure proper oversight and safe drilling.
“Unfortunately, there are serious job losses that will result from the six-month deepwater drilling moratorium which is estimated to kill 20,000 Louisiana jobs and cost us between $65 to 135 million in lost Louisiana wages each month. The reality is that the moratorium not only threatens jobs on oil rigs, but it also jeopardizes many other industries that supply our oil and gas industry and the entire communities that depend on them.”
UPDATE #4: Rep. Bill Cassidy weighs in:
“This is a victory for Louisiana workers,” said Cassidy. “Science, facts, and reason indicate that a blanket moratorium is unnecessary. It is time for the Administration to end its assault on Louisiana jobs, and let our welders, pipefitters, and roustabouts get back to making the United States less dependent on OPEC.”
UPDATE #5: Sen. David Vitter chimes in with a sentiment most of our readers and many of our commenters share – while this is good stuff, it doesn’t exactly make Obama and Salazar go away:
“The court’s swift action against the injunction is a welcome announcement, but it also illustrates that this moratorium is more driven by politics than by what’s best for the safety of the Gulf. Unfortunately, the looming threat of another moratorium means that most companies are still going to plan for the worst and possibly leave – delivering a crushing economic hit to jobs in the Gulf region.
“There’s no question that Louisiana’s economy would suffer under this moratorium, but the Obama administration keeps pushing it. Worse, their lack of urgency to settle this moratorium challenge has put a de facto moratorium in place, creating the same end result.”