WASHINGTON (Dow Jones Newswires), Feb. 17, 2011
A federal judge in New Orleans ordered the Obama administration to decide within 30 days whether to grant a set of five permits for deep-water drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico, saying the administration's inaction on the requests is "increasingly inexcusable."
The action by Judge Martin Feldman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana marks an extraordinary turn in the legal battle between the oil industry and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar over how quickly offshore drilling should be allowed to resume following last year's oil spill involving BP that killed 11 workers and which ranks as the worst such spill in U.S. history.
The judge's ruling comes as Republicans in Congress are increasing pressure on the Obama administration to allow more drilling. It also comes just weeks after the same judge accused the Obama administration of "determined disregard" of his order last June overturning a ban on offshore oil and gas drilling that the administration imposed shortly after the BP spill.
In his latest decision, issued Thursday, Judge Feldman ordered the Interior Department to decide within 30 days whether to approve five permit applications sought by London-based Ensco and submitted to the department as long ago as last April.
The Obama administration has said federal law imposes no specific timetable on the agency to make decisions on such projects. Feldman, in his ruling, said the government is required to act in an "expeditious" manner, and that "the time delays at issue here are unreasonable."
"The rights involved here are more than economic: the plaintiff's operations in the Gulf of Mexico are threatened with endless disability," Judge Feldman wrote. "As the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster draws near, any reason that would have justified delays has, under a rule of reason, expired. Beginning to process permit applications will restore normalcy to the Gulf region and repair the public's faith in the administrative process."
A spokeswoman for the Interior Department had no immediate comment on the judge's ruling, saying only that the department is reviewing the judge's ruling.
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