Justice Department officials say the government now intends — sometime tonight — to seek a stay of yesterday's order by a federal judge in New Orleans temporarily blocking the Interior Department's moratorium on offshore drilling, NBC's Pete Williams reports.
The request will likely be made of the judge himself, asking him to put a hold on his own order while the government pursues an appeal. If he declines, the request would be made to the federal appeals court in New Orleans.
At the same time, the government will seek a new moratorium, doing so in a way that avoids some of the legal problems identified by the judge. For example, he chided the Interior Department for claiming that a panel of outside experts had endorsed the moratorium issued in late May, when, in fact, they favored something less sweeping.
Once the Interior Department issues its new moratorium, the government fully expects another legal challenge and very likely another court order blocking it. But on the second round, with a modified moratorium, the Justice Department believes it would be on firmer ground to seek an appeal.
UPDATE 3:34 p.m. ET: Yahoo News has taken a look at Judge Martin Feldman's financial disclosure forms and discovers that he "appears to own stock in numerous companies involved in the offshore oil industry — including Transocean, which leased the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to BP prior to its April 20 explosion in the Gulf of Mexico."
UPDATE 2:18 p.m. ET: NBC's Pete Williams reports that as a practical matter, no oil company will resume drilling until it knows what the legal landscape is:
UPDATE 2:11 p.m. ET: White House press secretary Robert Gibbs tells reporters the administration will file an immediate appeal with the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals:
The president strongly believes — as the Department of Interior and the Department of Justice argued yesterday — that continuing to drill at these depths without knowing what happened is — does not make any sense and puts the safety of those involved — potentially puts the safety of those on the rigs and the safety of the environment in the Gulf at a danger that the president does not believe we can afford right now.
UPDATE 2:04 p.m. ET: In his ruling, Judge Martin Feldman, who was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, finds that Hornbeck Offshore Services would likely be able to prove to a full court that "the Administration acted arbitrarily and capriciously in issuing the moratorium."
The judge slams the administration for imposing "a blanket, generic, indeed punitive, moratorium," which he finds has caused "irreparable harm" to " business and jobs and livelihoods":
This Court is persuaded that the public interest weighs in favor of granting a preliminary injunction. While a suspension of activities directed after a rational interpretation of the evidence could outweigh the impact on the plaintiffs and the public, here, the Court has found the plaintiffs would likely succeed in showing that the agency's decision was arbitrary and capricious. An invalid agency decision to suspend drilling of wells in depths of over 500 feet simply cannot justify the immeasurable effect on the plaintiffs, the local economy, the Gulf region, and the critical present-day aspect of the availability of domestic energy in this country.
UPDATE 1:54 p.m. ET: Bloomberg has a good explainer on the ruling and what it means here.
UPDATE 1:48 p.m. ET: The White House has just said it will appeal Judge Martin Feldman's ruling.
UPDATE 1:46 p.m. ET: Background on the ruling:
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman's ruling blocks an Interior Department moratorium on 33 projects that were under way when the BP-operated rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 workers.
Hornbeck Offshore of Covington, La., sought the ruling, arguing that the moratorium is arbitrary and that the Interior Department did not have proof that the projects pose a threat.
Bulletin from Reuters:
U.S. judge rules against Obama administration's 6-month moratorium on deepwater drilling