NYT: Obama administration to allow drilling off Atlantic coast, ban it in Arctic seas

The New York Times, in an online article that appeared Monday evening, reports that the Obama administration will announce Tuesday a decision to allow oil exploration on the Atlantic coast while forbidding it in areas of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off Alaska.

Areas along the Eastern seaboard that would be affected by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management decision would be between Virginia and Georgia.

No oil exploration has occurred off the country’s Atlantic coast since the early 1980s. However, political pressure to resume the practice has grown in recent years. In March 2010 President Barack Obama said that he favored drilling off the East coast states shorelines, but in the aftermath of that year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill along the Gulf coast, the Department of Interior decided to hold off issuing any leases until at least 2017.

A Dec. 2014 study by BOEM concluded that the mean quantity of oil beneath the Atlantic waves and under the continental shelf could be as much as 4.72 billion barrels. The amount exploitable between Virginia and Georgia would likely be as much as about 3 billion barrels, according to the agency. BOEM also found that the area along the coast that encompasses Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia may also hide about 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The decision on Arctic drilling would follow the announcement Sunday by President Barack Obama that he will ask Congress to designate more than 12 million additional acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness. That designation, if approved by Congress, would included the refuge’s coastal plain.

About 7 million acres of the 54-plus year old Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was preserved from most forms of natural resource exploitation in 1980.

Obama’s effort to nearly triple the wilderness acreage in the Mollie Beattie Wilderness would, if successful, create the largest single component of the National Wilderness Preservation System.



Obama signs first wilderness legislation since 2009


Image courtesy Wikimedia.

President Barack Obama  has signed a bill designating land for addition to the National Wilderness Preservation System, heralding the first designation of new wilderness since 2009.

Obama approved legislation that protects about 32,500 acres in Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The action came Mar. 13.

For more details about the new wilderness designation, see this post.

House to take up bill to designate first wilderness in 5 years

The Republican-dominated U.S. House of Representatives will decide Monday whether to designate land along Lake Michigan as wilderness.

If the chamber approves H.R. 163, the nation would be on track for the first addition to the National Wilderness Preservation System since January 2011 and the first decision by Congress to expand NWPS since March 2009.

The bill covers 32,557 acres, nearly half of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Running for more than 60 miles along Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was chosen in one recent survey as the “most beautiful place in America.”

The NWPS contains 757 segments totaling more than 109 million acres. More than half of them overlay National Park Service lands.

Elkhorn Ridge Wilderness, located in northern California, was the last addition to NWPS. That wilderness area had been designated in 2006.

Congress last approved a bill creating new wilderness areas more than five years ago. The Omnibus Public  Land Management Act of 2009 added more than 2 million aces to NWPS. It was signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 30, 2009.

The Senate has already approved legislation to protect land within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which means that H.R. 163 will head to Obama’s desk if the House agrees to it.

Its prospects appear to be good, as Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich., is the lead sponsor.

This image shows Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in winter. Photo courtesy Wikimedia.

This image shows Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in winter. Photo courtesy Wikimedia.

Ninth Circuit denies en banc review in Drakes Bay Oyster case

A federal appeals court has denied a request that a panel decision upholding the Obama administration’s move to evict an oyster farm from Point Reyes National Seashore be reviewed by a larger group of appellate judges.

In an order released Jan. 14, the court rejected a request for en banc review. As is the usual practice in such circumstances, the court did not provide substantive explanations for why review by 11 judges on the court of the three-judge panel opinion was refused. The order said only that no judge outside the panel voted to grant such review.

The decision in Drakes Bay Oyster Co. v. Jewell upheld a decision by former Interior secretary Ken Salazar not to renew a lease that allowed an oyster farming operation to harvest shellfish within the confines of an area in the Point Reyes National Seashore that is eligible for wilderness protection.

The lessee argued that it had a right, under a provision of a federal appropriations law, to have its lease renewed and that the Obama administration had not completed environmental impact studies required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Ninth Circuit panel, over the dissent of one of the three judges who sat on it, rejected those arguments in an opinion released in Sept. 2013.

Ninth Circuit considering whether to grant en banc review in Drakes Bay Oyster case

The San Francisco-based federal appeals court that upheld an Obama administration decision not to renew a permit allowing oyster farming at Point Reyes National Seashore is considering whether to re-hear the case.

In an order released Tuesday, the judges who wrote the Sept. 3 opinion asked the U.S. Department of Justice to inform the court whether it thinks en banc review is appropriate. The court set a Dec. 2 deadline for the Obama administration’s brief.

The case involves a clash between a 1970s decision by Congress to designate an estuary called Drakes Estero, the likely site of the first landing by Europeans in California in 1579, as a potential addition to the National Wilderness Preservation System and a shellfish farm that has been in operation for about eight decades. 

Former secretary of the interior Ken Salazar announced in Nov. 2012 that a 40-year lease allowing use of about 1,100 acres located in the western half of the estuary for shellfish harvesting would not be renewed.

If the Interior Department’s decision not to renew the lease and accompanying special use permit is upheld, then the Drakes Estero acreage used by Drakes Bay Oyster Co., as well as about 1,600 additional acres, will become part of the first marine wilderness area on the west coast.

En banc review, or reconsideration of a three-judge panel’s opinion by a larger group of judges, is conducted in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit by 11 judges. According to the court’s rules, the judges who would sit on such a panel are chosen at random by a member of the clerk of court’s staff.

Federal law authorizes appeals courts to grant en banc review if the case is of “exceptional importance” or if the decision by the panel of three circuit judges is in conflict with a decision by another three-judge panel.

In the Drakes Bay case, the permit holder argues that an amendment to a 2009 law authorizes perpetual operation of the oyster farm, despite the 1976 statute.

The case is Drakes Bay Oyster Co. v. Jewell, No. 13-15227.

Report: Murkowski might block Jewell’s confirmation

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, might use her prerogative to block consideration of President Obama’s nomination of Sally Jewell to lead the Department of Interior.

According to a report in the Anchorage Daily News, Murkowski is considering the move as a way to force the administration to agree a land exchange permitting construction of a road between Cold Bay and King Cove.

The contemplated road would cross the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Alaska, which provides habitat for a variety of species including grizzly bears, moose, caribou, and five species of Pacific salmon.

Of the 315,000 acres in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, 300,000 are included in the National Wilderness Preservation System.

In exchange for the land needed to build the single-lane, gravel road across 206 acres of the refuge, the state of Alaska and native American tribes would trade about 56,000 acres of land to be added to the refuge.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the proposed land exchange on Feb. 5.

Current interior secretary Ken Salazar will visit residents in the region that would benefit from the road during a trip to Alaska scheduled for next week.