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Federal Court Caps OCS Oil and Gas Lease Sale, Sketches New Horizons for OCS Lands Act

March 1978

Citation: ELR 10048

For the second time in less than a year, a federal district court has enjoined the Department of the Interior's program to accelerate development of outer continental shelf (OCS) petroleum resources off the shores of the middle Atlantic states. On January 28, 1978, only three days prior to the formal commencement of the sale of leases to tracts for oil and gas development in the Georges Bank region of the mid-Atlantic1, Federal District Judge Arthur Garrity, in Massachusetts v. Andrus,2 preliminarily enjoined the Secretary of the Interior from receiving or opening any bids in connection with the sale, finding that the Secretary's last-minute decision to proceed was contrary to his duties under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA),3 the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),4 and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).5 On January 30, the day before the scheduled sale, defendants and intervenors brought an emergency appeal before the First circuit Court of Appeals, which declined to stay the injunction, expressing an inability to declare the lower court's order either arbitrary or patently erroneous.6 The parties have agreed to file briefs with the appellate court on an expendited basis, and a full hearing has been scheduled for early March.

The lower court's opinion is a rich gumbo of innovative legal interpretations which, if upheld on appeal and supported by the district court's subsequent opinion on the merits, may establish important precedent with respect to OCS leasing, NEPA litigation, and other areas of environmental law as well. In the short term, however, the most significant consequence of the decision is that a small but visible component of the Carter Administration's push to develop new sources of energy while accepting greater environmental risks has been sidetracked.

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