Last week, Rep. Ted Poe, R-Tex., and two dozen members of Congress from the Gulf states pleaded with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to lift the Obama administration’s six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling.
Today a federal judge did it for him.
New Orleans District Court Judge Martin Feldman issued a temporary injunction Tuesday, lifting the moratorium and accusing Salazar of “arbitrary and capricious” behavior that will cause “irreparable harm” to 33 other deepwater oil rigs that the government unfairly assumes are unsound, despite the fact that all of them have been reinspected since the BP blowout on May 28.
Rep. Poe, who served as a judge for 22 years before running for Congress, said he was heartened, but not surprised by the decision.
“The judge acted appropriately and followed the law,” he told The Examiner. In reaction to the White House’s statement vowing to challenge the ruling, he said, “The federal government will wind up losing if they appeal.”
Poe pointed out that the court basically agrees with the oil companies’ argument that the moratorium is unfair and is convinced they would prevail in a jury trial. Preliminary injunctions are rare, he says, and this one was imposed on the government because of the massive economic losses plaintiffs have already suffered since the feds closed down their deepwater drilling operations on May 28.
The ruling cites the possible “irreparable harm” the drilling ban poses, such as bankruptcy and the loss of thousands of jobs.
If the government appeals, the court could require it to post a bond equivalent to the amount of damages the plaintiffs have suffered, which could be in the billions of dollars. And because of the urgency of the situation – as many as 40,000 people in the Gulf states with oil-related jobs have been idle for almost two months- any appeal is likely to be expedited and heard within the next two weeks.
Poe does not believe the federal government will prevail. “I’ve consistently said that closing all deepwater drilling rigs because one rig had an accident was an overreaction by the federal government,” he said. “When BP had a refinery explosion in 2005 and lots of people died, we didn’t close down all the refineries in the United States.”
But if the government overreacted by imposing the moratorium, it’s been under-reacting on the cleanup. “The bureaucracy has a FEMA mentality,” Rep. Poe said. “There seems to be a lack of urgency. This is an emergency, but it’s not being treated as one.”