Everyone by now is familiar with BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg’s embarrassingly tone-deaf pronouncement that BP “cares about the small people.” Svanberg later apologized for his clumsy construction, which he later clarified was intended to convey “that BP understands how deeply this affects the lives of people who live along the Gulf and depend on it for their livelihood.”
Earlier today, the “little people” of the Gulf coast—those who live and work in coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida and who have come to depend on off-shore drilling for their very survival—won a significant victory in federal court. Who was their legal adversary? The federal government.
On May 27, the Obama Administration announced a six-month moratorium on approving any new permits for deepwater drilling, and further halted drilling at 33 exploratory wells along the Gulf coast at that same time. In announcing this decision, the administration claimed it was merely following the recommendation of a bipartisan commission that enjoyed the full backing of the scientific community. But seven leading experts from the National Academy of Engineering promptly and publicly accused the White House of distorting and misrepresenting their views to justify the moratorium. And many Gulf coast leaders immediately expressed their own concerns that a complete moratorium on drilling was a bad idea in the midst of a floundering economy—the last thing the region needs in order to bounce back from a disaster.
So the little people decided to fight back. Several owners of small companies who provide a myriad of services to support offshore drilling in the Gulf, including those who ferry people and supplies to offshore oil rigs, went to federal court to enjoin the federal government from enforcing what they saw as an arbitrarily imposed moratorium. Today, they won. Detailing the economic harm to local businesses and employees that the moratorium would cause, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman issued a preliminary injunction against the moratorium, which he described as “generic, indeed punitive”:
Some of the plaintiffs’ contracts have been affected; the Court is persuaded that it is only a matter of time before more business and jobs and livelihoods will be lost. The [federal government] trivialize[s] such losses by characterizing them as merely a small percentage of the drilling rigs affected, but it does not follow that this will somehow reduce the convincing harm suffered.
Perhaps demonstrating that it is even more tone deaf than BP’s chairman, the White House swiftly promised to appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.