South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Federal Judge Orders Trump Administration to Stop Taking Action on Seismic Permitting Pending Government Shutdown
Posted: January 18, 2019

For Immediate Release

For more info, contact: Amy E. Armstrong, S.C. Environmental Law Project, (843) 527-0078 amy@scelp.org

Federal Judge Orders Trump Administration to Stop Taking Action on Seismic Permitting Pending Government Shutdown

The US District Court in Charleston granted the Department of Justice’s motion to stay and enjoined the Federal Government, including BOEM, from taking any further action on the pending permit applications for oil and gas surveys in the Atlantic

Charleston, SC (January 18, 2019) – Today Judge Gergel issued an order granting the federal government’s request to stay the time for responding to the State of South Carolina’s motion to intervene in the lawsuit filed by SCELP and others on behalf sixteen coastal municipalities, the South Carolina Small Business Chamber, national and state conservation groups on December 11th. In the legal pleadings, the federal government claimed that it would not be processing the BOEM permits due to the government shutdown; however, the Attorney General provided the court with BOEM’s Contingency Plan dated January 8, 2019, in which it stated that 40 employees had been declared exempt so that they could continue work on processing the seismic testing permits. In allowing the federal government more time to respond to the State’s motion to intervene, the Judge also enjoined all federal agencies, and namely BOEM, from taking action to approve the seismic testing permits, the last regulatory hurdle to clear before five surveying companies can start blasting the Atlantic.

This injunction shall remain in effect until several conditions are met: (i) funds have been appropriated for the DOJ and all federal defendants; (ii) the Court has received the Federal Defendants' responses to the pending motions to intervene filed by, among others, the SC State Attorney; and (iii) and the Court has ruled on those motions.

DOJ filed its motion to stay the time for its response to the motions to intervene, citing the ongoing government shutdown as the reason it was not in the position to carry out its legal defense duties. Meanwhile, the Trump administration had called back BOEM workers to keep processing offshore seismic testing permits in the Atlantic.

The move was heavily criticized by the conservation community and Judged Gergel cut the Gordian knot (or called the Administration bluff) by issuance of this order. The Federal Defendants are also required to file a response to the pending motions to intervene within thirteen days of the restoration of funding, after which the Court indicated it will promptly rule on the pending motions to intervene. We welcome the decisive ruling.

“The federal government sought to have it both ways: being relieved from its duties to respond to court filings, while also continuing to process seismic blasting permits. We are thankful that the court is allowing the same government shutdown considerations to apply to both the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior,” Amy Armstrong, SCELP executive director comments.

The sixteen municipalities that SCELP is representing, Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, Port Royal, Beaufort, Edisto Island, Seabrook Island, Kiawah Island, Folly Beach, James Island, Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms, Awendaw, Pawleys Island, Briarcliffe Acres, and North Myrtle Beach, are concerned about the environmental impacts along with economic ones. The South Carolina Small Business Chamber points to the fact that seismic blasts drive away fish, whales and dolphins that help support the fishing industries and tourism industries along the coast.