A Deliberate Approach

Kim Elton, director of Alaska Affairs for the Department of the Interior, said his office is still studying the ruling (Appeals Court Throws Out Drilling Program) and could not say how it affected past and future leasing off Alaska.

Regardless of how lawyers and judges ultimately define the scope of the ruling, Elton said it holds lessons for Interior as the agency moves forward with amendments to the current plan, as required, and a proposed new five-year plan that could open more offshore acreage to development.

Elton said it shows that the department needs to thoroughly investigate all development scenarios and not make hurried assumptions based on the work of the previous administration.

“We too often end up doing things in a rushed way without recognising the fact that the paradigm is likely to be challenged,” he said.

“And if we don’t do our upfront work we allow a group of people wearing black robes or a person wearing a black robe to set policy.”

Though industry officials and some Republicans in the US Congress have called for a quick approval of further offshore development, Elton said the latest ruling should convince people that rushing to formulate land-use policies leave them open to challenge in court.

“The lesson is clear that if you don’t inject a certain amount of pragmatism, if you don’t have a deliberate approach you open the door for somebody else,” he said. “If you work carefully beforehand you can get to a policy position that might be sustained.”

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