Policy: Law

Day 9: Obama repeatedly defied federal court with Gulf oil policies

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Conn Carroll,Barack Obama,Interior,Louisiana,Energy and Environment,Executive Power Series,Law,Oil

Part nine of the Washington Examiner's 10-part series "With the Stroke of a Pen: How Obama abuses executive power to make the law of the land."

In 2004, then-Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama told the League of Conservation Voters: “I believe that existing policies are imbalanced in favor of new and increased [oil and gas] extraction. ... Reduced energy demand would eliminate the need for new production on federal public lands, and I would oppose such production in any event.”

Jacking up oil prices by ending energy production on federal lands has long been a top priority for liberal Democrats and their Big Green environmental movement backers.

So when the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling rig exploded on April 20, 2010, President Obama wasted little time before shutting down all drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

On April 30, 2010, Obama ordered a temporary ban on all new oil and gas leases in the region and asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to produce a report with further recommendations.

On May 28, 2010, Salazar produced the report, and in it he recommended a new six-month ban on offshore drilling in the Gulf, a recommendation Salazar immediately put in force. That recommendation was purportedly based on nothing but the best peer-reviewed sound science.

About this series

On Nov. 16, 2010, just days after voters gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives, the progressive think tank Center for American Progress published a report titled "The Power of the President."

Obama-Biden Transition Project Chairman John Podesta introduced the report, writing that "in the aftermath of this month's midterm congressional elections, pundits and politicians across the ideological spectrum are focusing on how difficult it will be for President Barack Obama to advance his policy priorities through Congress."

"Some debate whether the administration should tack to the center and compromise with the new House leadership," Podesta continued.

"As a former White House chief of staff, I believe those to be the wrong preoccupations. President Obama's ability to govern the country as chief executive presents an opportunity to demonstrate strength, resolve, and a capacity to get things done," Podesta said.

Not only did Obama almost immediately embrace the report's call for maximizing executive power to achieve progressive ends without Congress, it even branded the effort "We Can't Wait," thus advertising the fact that Obama had abandoned all pretense of following the U.S. Constitution's carefully drawn separation-of-powers doctrine.

In this Washington Examiner series, Senior Writer Conn Carroll documents the many times Obama has flagrantly abused executive authority to advance his liberal agenda without congressional approval.

The top 10 instances will be examined over the next two weeks, and more will come later.

Stories in this series

1. Immigration amnesty by executive memo

2. The employer mandate delay

3. War in Libya

4. The illegal Solyndra contract modification

5. Rewriting federal education law by waiver

6. Unconstitutional NLRB appointees

7. The Yucca Mountain delay

8. Gutting welfare reform

9. The Gulf of Mexico drilling moratorium

10. Regulating the Internet

But it turned out Salazar’s report was a lie. According to a later report from the Interior Department Inspector General, White House energy czar Carol Browner unilaterally changed the language in the report to suggest that a seven-member panel of outside scientific experts all endorsed the moratorium.

That claim was false. The Obama administration was caught making up the “science” it wanted to fit the policy outcome it desired.

Even before Obama’s White House was caught manipulating that science, oil firms operating in the Gulf sued Obama in federal court to overturn his drilling ban.

After reviewing the facts and science in the case, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana found that Obama’s drilling ban was an “arbitrary and capricious” abuse of executive authority, and ordered the ban overturned.

But instead of following the law and allowing Gulf drilling to resume, Obama doubled down, issuing a new moratorium featuring minor technical changes from the first.

The second Obama drilling moratorium applied for the exact same length of time as the first moratorium, through Nov. 30, 2010.

But after intense bipartisan political pressure from Louisiana Sens. David Vitter, a Republican, and Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, Obama nominally lifted the moratorium on Oct. 12, 2010.

By that time about 36 rigs in the Gulf of Mexico had been put out of work, five rigs were being transferred to Egypt and other parts of Africa, and 12,000 jobs had been lost.

Energy industry experts predicted that if new oil leases were not issued, the long-term and indirect economic losses would include more than 175,000 jobs in the region.

But even though the Obama the moratorium had been nominally lifted, a functional ban remained because the Interior Department refused to issue any new drilling permits.

So oil companies again took Obama to federal court, this time seeking an order holding the chief executive in contempt of court and asking that the government pay all of their legal fees.

Again, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana ruled against Obama, finding him in contempt of court for “a flagrant and continuous disregard of the Court’s Order.”

Finally, on Feb. 28, 2011, almost a month after he had been found in contempt, Obama granted the first oil lease in the Gulf of Mexico.

But while the Interior Department has since stepped up the pace of issuing leasing permits, Gulf oil production is still far below pre-Deepwater Horizon levels.

The month before the blowout, according to the Energy Information Administration, oil companies were pumping 1.6 million barrels of oil a day out of the Gulf.

Today they are pumping just 1.07 million barrels a day, a 33 percent drop in production.

All told, according to a 2012 American Petroleum Institute study, Obama’s Gulf oil drilling moratorium cost the United States more than $24 billion in lost energy investments and about 90,000 jobs.

Those losses make the $440,596.68 in legal fees the Eastern District forced Obama to pay the oil companies for defying its court order seem like a drop in the bucket.

Conn Carroll is a senior editorial writer for the Washington Examiner.

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