“Since coming into office, Trump has been on an one-man campaign to undo the work of his predecessor,” said Niel Lawrence, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, who took part in the oral arguments in the Alaska case. “What this opinion confirms is that there are constitutional limits to that.”
Erik Milito, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, which lobbies for the oil industry and which joined the Trump administration’s case, said, “While we disagree with the decision, our nation still has a significant opportunity before us in the development of the next offshore leasing plan to truly embrace our nation’s energy potential and ensure American consumers and businesses continue to benefit from U.S. energy leadership.”
Experts said that Judge Gleason’s decision could affect the legal outcome of Mr. Trump’s efforts to roll back certain protections created by his predecessors on public lands.
Just as presidents have used the 1953 offshore-drilling law to protect federal waters, they have used a different law, the 1906 Antiquities Act, put in place by President Theodore Roosevelt, to designate and protect millions of acres of lands as permanent public monuments. Presidents throughout the past century have created such monuments.
While at least two presidents have used their authority to shrink the size of monuments created by their predecessors, Mr. Trump has done so at a more drastic scale. In December 2017, Mr. Trump cut about two million acres from two national monuments in Utah: the Bears Ears monument, created by Mr. Obama, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument, created by Mr. Clinton. At the time it was the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history.
Already, lawsuits on the issue are making their way through federal courts. Professor Parenteau and others predicted that Judge Gleason’s decision could possibly have a bearing on those cases.
That is because, in the language of both laws, Congress gave the president the right to occasionally designate public lands and waters for protection. However, each of the laws is silent on whether a successor can reduce or revoke those protections.