01 • 18 • 2019

Judge Calls for a Hold on Seismic Permits

There has been a positive development in our Surfrider Foundation, Earthjustice, Sierra Club, SELC, CBD, Oceana, NRDC, NC Coastal Federation, One Hundred Miles, and SC Coastal Conservation League's seimic litigation filed last month to stop harmful seismic airgun blasting off the Atlantic coast in search of offshore oil deposits. Today, the U.S. Distrcit Court of South Carolina has ordered a “stay of proceedings” or hold on any federal agency or entity, enjoining them from taking action to issue pending permit decisions for oil and gas surveys in the Atlantic.  The court ordered that this injunction remain in effect until after the current partial government shutdown ends and funds have been appropriated for the Department of Justice and all federal defendants, as well as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Managment (“BOEM”).  Specifically, Judge Richard Mark Gergel noted “it would be inappropriate for the Federal Defendants to gain advantage from a stay or allow Plaintiffs and petitioning intervenor states to be prejudiced by a stay.”

Our case has been consolidated with the City of Beaufort et al. v. National Marine Fisheries Service case, brought by South Carolina municipalities. Additionally earlier this month, the state of South Carolina moved to intervene on our behalf in the litigaiton.  Previously, the Court stayed the Federal Defendants' response to the motion to intervene by the states of Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Virginia. The court directed the federal defendants to file a response to the pending motions to intervene within thirteen days of the restoration of federal funding to the Deparment of Justice and BOEM. 

Through filings in this case, the Acting BOEM DIrector has stated that BOEM will not issue a final permit decision on any application before March 1, 2019 and will additionally require at least 30-day notice of the action.  Meanwhile the birth of two right whale calves in the area give all the more reason to protect their fragile habitat and enjoin the activities that could harm them.  While this new development means that the government cannot make any official action until they get funded and deal with the intervention motions, we will be ready for action to respond if BOEM does issue the permits shortly after the injunction expires.