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New Orleans Judge Blocks Deepwater Drilling Ban

A federal judge has blocked the Obama administration’s six-month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The moratorium, which the president announced May 27, temporarily halted all new permits at depths greater than 500 feet, as well as drilling at the 33 existing exploratory wells in the area. But more than a dozen offshore oil companies sued to overturn the ban, and on Tuesday federal judge Martin Feldman ruled in their favor. The White House said it plans to appeal immediately.

Government lawyers had argued that the moratorium would give needed time implement new safety regulations and for a presidential commission on drilling safety to complete its work.

But industry lawyers said in the hearing Monday that the government had failed to prove that other wells were at risk of failing, and that even airlines were only shut down for three days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “Never before has the government, with the stroke of a pen, shut down an entire industry for six months,” industry lawyer Carl Rosenblum said in the hearing, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

The state of Louisiana filed an amicus brief in support of the companies, saying that it hadn’t been consulted about the moratorium, which would have significant economic repercussions in the state.

Tim Kerner, the mayor of Lafitte, La. — where many residents work in offshore oil drilling — told the Associated Press: “I love it. I think it’s great for the jobs here and the people who depend on them.”

But a lawyer for environmental groups who supported the ban told AP the decision was a step in the wrong direction. “The harm at issue with the Deepwater Horizon spill is bigger than just the Louisiana economy. It affects all of the Gulf,” she said.

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