POLITICS
05/03/2017 05:34 pm ET

Lawsuit Claims Trump's Arctic Drilling Order Violates Constitution

Alaska Native and environmental advocacy groups want to block the president's freeze on an Obama-era drilling ban.

Alaska Native and environmental advocacy groups on Wednesday sued President Donald Trump, seeking to block his efforts to expand offshore drilling in protected ocean areas.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice and the Alaska Wilderness League, among others, argue in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Alaska that Trump violated the Constitution with his executive order last week that could reverse a permanent ban on drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. In addition to Trump, the suit names Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross as defendants.

“What Trump’s executive order tries to do is upset this protection ― take it away,” said Erik Grafe, an attorney in Earthjustice’s Alaska office. “So we’re suing to restore the protection before oil companies come rushing back into the Arctic.”

Environmental advocates have been resisting the expansion of offshore drilling for years, citing major risks to marine life, coastal communities and the climate.

In 2012, Shell Oil Company's Kulluk drill rig drifted aground off Sitkalidak Island in the Gulf of Alaska after towing l
Handout . / Reuters
In 2012, Shell Oil Company's Kulluk drill rig drifted aground off Sitkalidak Island in the Gulf of Alaska after towing line broke during transport.

In November, then-President Barack Obama’s Interior Department imposed a temporary ban on drilling in the Arctic’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas until 2022. The action limited offshore drilling to the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Cook Inlet. One month later, Obama used his executive authority to extend permanent protections for large swaths of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, relying on a provision of the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act

The lawsuit says Trump exceeded his constitutional authority by illegally attempting to reopen areas to drilling that are now withdrawn under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.

This administration seems to pander to fossil fuel companies at the expense of Alaska’s indigenous people, our future, our traditions. Faith Gemmill, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands

“This administration seems to pander to fossil fuel companies at the expense of Alaska’s indigenous people, our future, our traditions,” said Faith Gemmill, executive director of Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands, an Alaska Natives advocacy group that is one of 10 plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “We’re hoping the courts right this wrong.”

Gemmill said offshore drilling could endanger bowhead whales, walrus and seals, which are dietary staples for Alaska’s Native coastal communities.

“They are dependent on healthy ocean for their food security, their culture and their spirituality,” Gemmill said. “They call [the ocean] their garden. It provides everything they need to survive in this harsh, cold environment.”

Men of the Edwardsen crew look for whales in April 2001 in the outskirts of Barrow, Alaska.
Luciana Whitaker via Getty Images
Men of the Edwardsen crew look for whales in April 2001 in the outskirts of Barrow, Alaska.

Rising sea levels created by climate change have already forced some indigenous coastal communities in Alaska to relocate. Climate scientists say further investment in fossil fuels will exacerbate the problem.

“The Arctic Ocean is not a rational place to drill for oil,” Grafe said. “It’s far too risky and it locks in fossil fuel energy when we need to invest in clean energy to leave the planet for our kids.”

A majority of Americans believe the U.S. should focus on developing renewable energy. Trump, however, has vowed to expand the fossil fuel industry. 

“This executive order is part of Trump’s larger assault on public lands and water,” Grafe said. “And public lands and waters belong to all of us ― not to fossil fuel companies.”

Read the against against Trump below.

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