The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit this week ruled that an executive order by President Biden made moot the previous administration’s attempts to allow oil and gas development on the outer continental shelf in the Chukchi Sea off northwestern Alaska, in protected areas of the Beaufort Sea off northern Alaska and in protected areas of the Atlantic.
In 2017, President Trump issued an executive order to reverse President Obama’s protection of those waters from oil and gas development, a decision Obama was authorized to make under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). Trump’s order was struck down in 2019 by a federal judge in Alaska, after the League of Conservation Voters challenged the order in court. The Trump administration appealed that decision.
The appeal would have examined the legality under the OCSLA of a president terminating a predecessor’s withdrawal of specified federal offshore areas from oil and gas development. The OCSLA is not explicit on this possibility.
The appeals court confirmed that Biden’s executive order on this topic – issued on the president’s first day in office, on January 20, 2021 – meant there were no grounds for an appeal; the new executive order revoking President Trump’s order removed the basis of the legal controversy, leaving President Obama’s restrictions in place.