Judge to Salazar: No Drilling Moratorium For You

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A federal judge in Louisiana this morning enjoined the administration's six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling, ruling that it is likely to be found "arbitrary and capricious."

The decision is shocking at first blush. How, in the shadow of the ongoing catastrophe in the Gulf, could a judge conclude the administration doesn't have the right to protect public health and safety by imposing a moratorium on deep-water drilling?

The judge in question, a Reagan appointee named Martin Feldman, seems like a piece of work. Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard points out that in his latest financial disclosure, Feldman indicated that he owned a diverse portfolio of drilling industry stock — including shares of Transocean and Halliburton.

But the logic of ruling itself can't easily be dismissed. It goes to town on Interior and Secretary Ken Salazar for the sloppy analysis underlying the administration's six-month suspension.

The judge notes that the administration contradicts itself on the most basic parameter: What is deep-water drilling? The moratorium was imposed in the wake of a 30-day safety report Salazar produced at Obama's instruction. That report defines deep water as anything over 1,000 feet. But the judge rightly notes that the administration's six-month moratorium "suddenly defines 'deep water' as more than 500 feet."

The decision to allow drilling at shallower depths, the judge notes, "simply seems driven by political or social agendas."

In short, Feldman rules, "The Secretary's determination... does not seem to be fact-specific." Feldman does not challenge that the administration has the power to suspend drilling, but cites precedent in declaring that Interior "must 'cogently explain why it has exercised its discretion in a given manner.' It has not done so."

The administration says it will immediately appeal the ruling.

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