Executive Overreach?

Last week, the 6-month drilling moratorium on the Gulf coast was lifted. However, many people are still upset and not yet back to work. Was this moratorium the best option in the first place? What are the repercussions going forward for the oil industry? Was the President’s drilling moratorium constitutional and thus legal?

First off, let’s start with the basic facts that led to the drilling moratorium. An oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, leading to the largest oil spill that has ever occurred in our waters. Although it was a terrible accident, and the effects on the ecosystem will need to be monitored for years to come, here is an insightful illustration of just how much oil spilled into the Gulf this past spring:

“If the Gulf was a football stadium, the Gulf of Mexico is the seventh largest body of water in the world, and contains approximately 660 quadrillion gallons of water. That’s 660 with 15 zeros. If the Gulf of Mexico was represented by the Cowboy stadium in Dallas, the largest domed stadium in the world, the amount of oil spilled would be about the size of a 24-ounce can of beer.”

Interesting perspective, isn’t it? What’s even more shocking is the fact that an entire industry was shut down because of one accident. Shutting down a few oils rigs located close to the defective one would have made sense. Additional inspections and evaluations of all working oil rigs would have been acceptable. But placing a moratorium on the entire industry was severely over-reaching and has caused extensive damage to the already struggling economy on the Gulf Coast. This past summer, Governor Bobby Jindal (R-Lousiana), had the opportunity to speak with the President about lifting the moratorium. Check out this video of Governor Jindal explaining the response he received from the President:

The drilling moratorium was put in place by a modern day political trick, known as an executive order. What, you may be wondering, exactly is an executive order? It is very loosely defined two places within the Constitution. The first reference is from Article II, Section 1, Clause 1, and states: “The Executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.” The second reference is found in Article II, Section 3, Clause 4, and says: The President must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Therefore, the original intent behind an executive order is purely to help uphold and clarify existing laws, not to make policy. Executive orders have also been commonly used as a tool for the president to encourage Congress to take up certain pieces of legislation that have already come before them. In recent years, such as in 1999 under President Clinton, and in both 2001 and 2003 under President Bush, the executive order was used to informally declare war. However, under those circumstances, Congress voted upon and confirmed these executive orders. Back in 1952, President Truman came under assault for abusing the executive order when he ordered that all steel mills should be under federal control. The Supreme Court, in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, ruled President Truman’s executive order unconstitutional because it sought to make policy and control a segment of commerce over which it had no legitimate jurisdiction.

A copy of early Federalist Papers.

Likewise, the executive order requiring a drilling moratorium was brought to court. This time a federal judge in New Orleans lifted the drilling ban citing that it was economically unjustifiable. Normally, this would be the end of the story, but not this time. The administration, specifically the Department of the Interior, ignored the ruling by the court even after an appeals court also held up the ruling. Instead, another drilling moratorium was issued by Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar in June of 2010: “Based on this ever-growing evidence, I will issue a new order in the coming days that eliminates any doubt that a moratorium is needed, appropriate, and within our authorities.”

The most disturbing aspect of these statements is the blatant disregard for the rule of law and extreme abuse of power. Separation of powers within our government was created for exactly this purpose; to ensure that one branch of the government could not get away with whatever it wanted. The judicial branch attempted to thwart the unconstitutional actions of the executive branch but was entirely shot down and given no respect. In Federalist Paper No. 47, future President James Madison warns that, “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

Separation of powers within our government was created for exactly this purpose; to ensure that one branch of the government could not get away with whatever it wanted.

The unjustified actions of the Obama administration undermined the integrity of our system of government while denying thousands of Gulf Coast workers their livelihood. As Americans, we must become watchful citizens. The separation of powers is a crucial element to our government which we cannot afford to compromise.