Government appeals order halting oil and natural gas exploration off California |

Government appeals order halting oil and natural gas exploration off California

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The Bush administration is appealing a federal judge’s June ruling blocking oil and natural gas exploration off California’s central coast, according to court records filed Monday.

The administration is asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken’s order prohibiting exploration until the federal government studies the environmental impacts and the California Coastal Commission approves the plan.

Wilken’s decision blocked any attempt to build the first new oil platforms off California’s coast since 1994. No drilling to explore for oil deposits has been conducted since 1989. The drilling proposal was off the coasts of three counties: San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura.

The Justice Department did not file briefs outlining its case. Instead, it informed the San Francisco-based appellate court that it would soon do so.

Justice Department spokesman Matt Jacobs declined comment.

At issue is an amount of oil that could be large enough to run California’s refineries for two years and fuel five months worth of the state’s natural gas demands. Those estimates are about one-fifth the amount of energy within Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the Bush administration wants to drill.

California sued to block the exploration days after President Clinton’s Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt extended the drilling leases on the dormant sites for 10 years in 1999.

The lawsuit contended that Babbitt’s decision was subject to review by the state under a federal law giving California authority to determine whether offshore drilling in federal waters is consistent with the state’s coastal protection plans.

Drew Caputo, an attorney with the National Resources Defense Council, was disappointed with the government’s decision to appeal.

”The Bush administration says it’s serious about states’ rights. Judge Wilken’s ruling is all about states’ rights,” Caputo said. ”By appealing that decision, the Bush administration is trying to go around states’ rights.”

Wilken ruled that, under the Coastal Zone Management Act, amended in 1990, Congress gave states a say in any activity affecting coastal communities.

Oil companies have paid $1.25 billion for the drilling leases, each covering about a nine-square-mile expanse of ocean.

The case is California v. Norton, C99-4964.

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