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Trump is shelving plans to open virtually all federal waters to offshore drilling

Key Points
  • The Trump administration had been poised to offer as much as 90% of federal waters to the oil and gas industry.
  • A federal judge shoots down its attempt to overturn President Obama's Arctic drilling ban in March.
  • Interior Secretary David Bernhardt says it may not be a "responsible use of resources" to offer offshore blocks that may get tied up in appeals.
U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a signed executive order on implementing an America-first offshore energy strategy in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, April 28, 2017.
Eric Thayer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

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.

Last month, Judge Sharon Gleason for the District Court of Alaska ruled that President Donald Trump's executive order overturning Obama's Arctic drilling ban was unlawful and invalid.

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.

President Barack Obama looks at Bear Glacier during a boat tour of the Kenai Fjords National Park on September 1, 2015 in Seward, Alaska. Bear Glacier is the largest glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

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.