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The Trump administration will not move forward with plans to open virtually all federal waters to offshore drilling, according to recently confirmed Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
The administration is putting the expansion on hold after a federal judge shot down its attempt to overturn President Barack Obama's Arctic drilling ban, Bernhardt told The Wall Street Journal. The ruling could lead to a prolonged appeals process that delays the Interior Department's decision on which offshore areas it will put up for auction, Bernhardt said.
"By the time the court rules, that may be discombobulating to our plan," Bernhardt said in an interview with the Journal. He said he's not sure it's "a very satisfactory and responsible use of resources" to offer offshore blocks that may get tied up in legal proceedings.
In doing so, Gleason ruled in favor of environmental groups, who argued that Congress gave the U.S. president the power to remove federal waters from consideration under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, but not the authority to overturn a previous president's withdrawal.
That means Obama's indefinite ban on drilling in most Arctic waters and parts of the Atlantic Ocean will remain in place until they're revoked by Congress. That is unlikely for the time being, because Democrats took control of the House last year.
Prior to the ruling, the Interior Department was expected to vastly expand drilling opportunities beyond the Gulf of Mexico in its next five-year lease schedule, which offers the oil and gas industry the opportunity to bid on offshore blocks.
A plan released by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last year would have made 90 percent of the U.S. outer continental shelf available, though the final details of the plan were not certain.
The plan faced opposition from Democratic and Republican governors in coastal states. Bernhardt acknowledged in the Journal interview that opposition from those states remains an issue.
The announcement marks the latest setback in Trump's efforts to expand U.S. fossil fuel production and roll back environmental regulations, which have faced a wave of lawsuits.
"Given the recent court decision, the Administration is right to set aside its plan, but it needs to go one step further and fully and permanently scrap its plan to open our coasts to unfettered offshore drilling," Collin O'Mara, president and CEO of National Wildlife Federation, said in a statement.