June 22, 2010

US District Judge Martin Feldman has issued a stay to the President's moratorium on offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Or put another way, the judge has given a green light for all offshore drilling to restart despite the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Judge Feldman ruled that the government had not taken other companies' safety records into account, nor had they provided compelling evidence for imposing a moratorium.

The Obama administration will appeal the ruling to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in an effort to have the ruling reinstated.

The text of the ruling is here (PDF). I will update this post with more information as it becomes available.

On the record now before the Court, the defendants have failed to cogently reflect the decision to issue a blanket, generic, indeed punitive, moratorium with the facts developed during the thirty-day review. The plaintiffs have established a likelihood of successfully showing that the Administration acted arbitrarily and capriciously in issuing the moratorium.

Update #1: From the comments (thanks to savannah43), a backgrounder on Judge Feldman.

The primary objection from the other companies drilling in the Gulf to the moratorium is the perception that they are being punished for BP's inattention to safety. However, as commenter jalbert points out, they are all using the same boilerplate emergency response plan which has been shown to be woefully inadequate, outdated, and unresponsive to specific needs of the Gulf of Mexico. Chevron's claim of "perfectly safe without a relief well" is such an example.

Update #2: Judge Feldman owns stock in drilling companies (Transocean is one).

TPM has the full portfolio, noting cozy relationships between judges in that region and the oil industry:

In his opinion today, Feldman wrote, “Oil and gas production is quite simply elemental to Gulf communities.” Indeed, it is so elemental that the justice system is invested in the oil and gas industry. As TP’s Ian Millhiser has written, “Industry ties among federal judges are so widespread that they are beginning to endanger the courts’ ability to conduct routine business. Last month, so many members of the right-wing Fifth Circuit were forced to recuse themselves from an appeal against various energy and chemical companies that there weren’t enough untainted judges left to allow the court to hear the case.

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