Joined by the Sierra Club, the Obama administration will appeal a decision by a New Orleans judge blocking the moratorium on oil drilling.
While the original legal brief may have been hastily put together, the Interior Department has more than enough reasons to justify its decision to suspend all deep-water drilling for six months, including this: In recent Congressional testimony, the executives of several major oil companies admitted that all of them had used the same consultant to assemble disaster plans just like BPs, which listed a dead scientist as an emergency contact. If BP’s emergency response plan didn’t work . . .
The administration also has ample reason to ask Judge Martin Feldman to recuse himself. From the NYT:
Groups supporting the moratorium quickly took aim on Tuesday at the judge, who was appointed to the federal bench in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan. Disclosure forms from 2008 obtained by the group Judicial Watch show that Feldman has invested in companies involved in offshore oil and gas exploration, including deep-water rig owner Transocean, shallow-water drillers Hercules and Rowan, and international rig and tool provider Parker Drilling. The investments were as much as $15,000 each, according to the forms.
But the amounts really don’t matter. A journalist/law school friend sent me the following:
The rules on judicial disqualifications are clear.
Judge Margaret McKeown recently explained the issue to Congress. “Even owning a single share of stock in a party mandates recusal,” McKeown told the House Judiciary Committee last year.
Unfortunately for the courts and the claimants before them, the oil and gas industry has deeply insinuated itself into the lives and financial portfolios of people along the Gulf Coast. It would be difficult to find a judge who wouldn’t need to recuse himself/herself, according to AP:
More than half of the federal judges in districts where the bulk of Gulf oil spill-related lawsuits are pending have financial connections to the oil and gas industry, complicating the task of finding judges without conflicts to hear the cases, an Associated Press analysis of judicial financial disclosure reports shows.
Thirty-seven of the 64 active or senior judges in key Gulf Coast districts in Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida have links to oil, gas and related energy industries, including some who own stocks or bonds in BP PLC, Halliburton or Transocean — and others who regularly list receiving royalties from oil and gas production wells, according to the reports judges must file each year. The AP reviewed 2008 disclosure forms, the most recent available.
Because oil is so important to Louisiana’s economy, Gov. Bobby Jindal has urged Obama not to appeal the decision, even as he berates the president for failing to respond to the spill quickly enough. Jindal is playing politics, but I feel sorry for the workers whose paychecks are imperiled by the moratorium. Still, given the eleven lives that were lost when the Deepwater Horizon exploded and given the extensive ongoing damage to the Gulf of Mexico and the coasts of several states, it’s imperative to make sure that other rigs are as safe as possible before deepwater drilling, which is inherently dangerous, resumes.
It would be irresponsible for President Obama to lift the ban too soon.