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04/21/2009

Court Vacates Five Year Drilling Program

This past Friday, a federal appeals court in Washington, DC handed down an enormous victory for our oceans, our beaches, and our climate.  The three judges ruled in favor of a coalition of environmental groups that had argued against the 2007-2012 Outer Continental Shelf Leasing Program, saying that it would do irreversible harm to Alaska's Bering, Beaufort, and Chukchi Seas.  This leasing program was pushed through without proper environmental review as the Bush administration was leaving office, a point the court made explicitly clear with its ruling.

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The decision has broader implications than just protecting Alaska's oceans, however.  The ruling vacates the entire five year plan, a plan which had scheduled 21 lease sales across the country.  12 were in the Gulf of Mexico, eight off Alaska's coast, and one off of Virginia's coast.  The impact of this decision cannot be underestimated.  Our coasts are more vulnerable now than they have been in almost three decades.  In the absence of a Congressional moratorium, this decision provides the best defense we have right now against the onslaught of the oil and gas industry.

Go figure, however, that Shell has indicated it will start exploratory drilling next year, in spite of the ruling.  They clearly are not going to lay down without a fight.  Write Secretary of the Interior Salazar and tell him that this ruling affirms the direction in which he appears to be taking the Minerals Management Service.  Drilling is not the answer for our energy needs.  It only destroys coastal environments and communities while exacerbating the climate crisis.  Tell him the new five year leasing plan should reflect this.

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