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Obama Administration Vows Appeal of Decision Blocking Drilling Moratorium

2:35 PM, Jun 22, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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When the going gets tough, the tough go to court. Isn't that the saying?

The Obama administration will immediately appeal a federal judge's decision to strike down its six-month moratorium on offshore drilling. 

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration would appeal a decision by district court judge granting an injunction against President Barack Obama's temporary ban on deepwater offshore drilling.

"We will immedaitely appeal to the Fifth Circuit," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at the tail end of this daily briefing with reporters.

"Continuing to drill at these depths without knowing what happened does not make any sense," Gibbs added.

The judge's decision, which is here (pdf), declares in part that the government's decision was "arbitrary and capricious" and likely to do "irreparable harm" to Gulf companies and citizens.

Keith Hennessey recently imagined a scenario in which presidential leadership in this situation could quickly lead to safer drilling and save the Gulf jobs it cannot stand to lose. It wouldn't solve the entire energy problem in one, fell swoop, but it would use a unified Congress to make some simple, effective changes in drilling policy that could demonstrably make the situation better, both economically and environmentally:

Imagine that the President proposes new legislation targeted at the problem of engineering safety in deepwater drilling.  Imagine his legislation contains five provisions:

  1. Require that all deepwater wells have a relief well in place before production begins.
  2. Mandate requirements for double piping and a list of other industry engineering best practices.  The prior best practice for engineering safety becomes the legally mandated minimum.
  3. Mandate that each deepwater drilling operation be insured for at least $20 B of environmental damage before production can begin.  Insurers will therefore require further engineering stringency to protect themselves.
  4. Raise the legal liability cap for any drilling platform to $50 B, just to be safe.
  5. All new wells must meet all of the above requirements, and all existing wells must cease production until they meet them.  (The details here might need some work.)

With these requirements, some amount of deepwater drilling would cease because it wouldn’t be economical with the added costs.  I’m confident that policymakers across the board would say, “Fine.  If the added protection is not worth that extra cost, then don’t drill there.  I want a belt, and suspenders, and Velcro too.”

I believe the legislation in scenario 1 would pass the House and Senate within a week or two, with overwhelming and possibly unanimous bipartisan majorities.  The President could quickly unify the country and celebrate a wise bipartisan solution to preventing the recurrence of a painful problem.  That would still leave the existing crisis, but the long-term policy issues would be solved.

Now, nevermind that, and back to tangentially related, overly ambitious, highly unpopular cap-and-tax schemes and criminal prosecution of BP. Meanwhile, the Gulf economy takes blow after blow...

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