NEW ORLEANS (CN) - A federal judge has given the Obama administration 30 days to decide on five permit applications for Gulf of Mexico deepwater drilling projects, calling the administration's delays in processing permits "increasingly unreasonable."
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman on Thursday granted a motion for preliminary injunction against the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in a suit brought by Ensco Offshore Company, a shallow-water drilling company. The judge said the Interior Department's "permitting backlog becomes increasingly inexcusable" as the months stretch on.
"The government is under a duty to act by either granting or denying a permit application within a reasonable time," Feldman wrote. "Not acting at all is not a lawful option." Before the Deepwater Horizon spill, drilling permits were decided within about two weeks. The five companies currently waiting on permits have been waiting between four and nine months.
In January, Feldman denied Ensco's request for injunction. The judge addressed the previous denial in his latest ruling, saying "the court had questions about whether it has the judicial authority to impose a time frame for agency decision and, if so, what a reasonable time frame would be to mandate government action, whether it be denial or approval of permit applications."
The judge rescinded his previous ruling Thursday. "Some delays are of course understandable," the decision states. "But now, nearly a year after the spill occurred, delays, particularly those of the length at issue here, become increasingly unreasonable."
Ever since imposing a blanket moratorium on offshore drilling last July, the government has apparently not even considered applications to drill, Feldman said.
The July federal moratorium was quickly overruled by Feldman the same month, only to be reissued by the Interior Department and re-enforced. It was officially lifted by the federal government in October. Still, no new permits to drill have been issued since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon.
Earlier this month, Feldman said the Obama administration acted in contempt for continuing to enforce the moratorium after he had found the drilling ban was "arbitrary and capricious."
"As the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster draws near, any reason that would have justified delays has, under a rule of reason, expired," Feldman wrote. "Beginning to process permit applications will restore normalcy to the Gulf region and repair the public's faith in the administrative process."