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A bird's wake is cast on the water as the American island of Little Diomede, Alaska, left, and behind it on the right, the Russian island of Big Diomede, in the Bering Strait, July 14, 2017.
David Goldman/AP
Environment

Federal Judge Overturns Trump’s Order to Allow Drilling in Arctic and Atlantic Oceans

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The United Nations calls on countries to phase out fossil fuels to mitigate climate change, and this ruling could accelerate progress toward that goal. Oil and gas drilling contributes to environmental degradation and can harm life below water. You can join us in taking action on this issue here.

President Donald Trump’s executive order to allow drilling in large parts of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans was blocked on March 29 by a federal judge in Alaska, according to the Guardian.  

US District Judge Sharon Gleason said that Trump didn’t have the authority to approve new drilling leases since former President Barack Obama banned development projects in the areas in 2015 and 2016.

“The wording of President Obama’s 2015 and 2016 withdrawals indicates that he intended them to extend indefinitely, and therefore be revocable only by an act of Congress,” wrote Gleason in her ruling.

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The ruling was applauded by environmentalists, who have long argued that drilling for oil and gas in these regions could cause catastrophic harm to marine ecosystems.

“The decision will force the Trump administration and acting Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt to reconsider their irresponsible national offshore leasing program that would turn our oceans into gas stations,” Abigail Dillen, president of environmental nonprofit Earthjustice, said in a statement. “It will also support the fight to oppose this administration’s ongoing attempts to roll back national monuments.”

Environmentalists have also argued that there’s no need to lease new drilling permits in these protected areas because the US already has tens of thousands of operational wells that have allowed it to become the leading producer of fossil fuels in the world.

Read More: Experts Say Arctic Drilling Makes Little Sense. So Why Is It Being Pushed?

Since taking office, the Trump administration has rolled back various environmental regulations, weakened the Environmental Protection Agency, and opened up large swaths of public lands to fossil fuel development.

The ruling by Judge Gleason, an Obama appointee, is the latest in a growing list of rulings against the Trump administration’s efforts to expand drilling rights and reduce environmental safeguards.

On March 21, a federal judge in Washington, DC, ruled that drilling projects on 300,000 acres of public land in Wyoming had to be halted until a comprehensive environmental assessment was performed.

Both of these rulings could be challenged in future court cases, but for now they put the brakes on additional fossil fuel development and will help protect the environment against further degradation.

Read More: One of the World's Last Pristine Marine Environments Is in Danger

“For an administration rushing to expose nearly all our coasts to the dangers of oil and gas leasing, this court decision is a bright red stop sign,” Niel Lawrence, senior attorney and director of the Alaska Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

“Trump exceeded his constitutional powers in trying to undo the ban on leasing in these areas, and the court recognized it,” he added. “This decision makes it clear that the law does not grant the president the authority to reverse these kinds of permanent protections for our natural resources and wildlife.”