While President Obama's focus of late has settled on clean energy, his past actions on off-shore oil drilling continue to be debated in both legal and political circles.
The latest snag came when a federal judge ruled that the administration has to decide within thirty days whether or not it will grant five deepwater drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman of the Eastern District of Louisiana ruled "the government is under a duty to act by either granting or denying a permit application within a reasonable time. Not acting at all is not a lawful option," he said.
After the infamous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year, the Obama administration took an on-again, off-again approach to drilling and has put new off-shore drilling permits on hold due to increased scrutiny over safety. The government's approval process typically takes weeks, but it has amounted to months of waiting for the five applicants in the Louisiana case.
Administration lawyers have not yet decided what action to take. "Our attorneys are reviewing the ruling," Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle told Fox.
The political blowback from Gulf Coast politicians was swift, "I applaud this ruling today. It confirms what [Democratic Louisiana Senator] Landrieu and I have been saying along with virtually every other Louisianian: President Obama's continuing de facto moratorium in the Gulf is inexcusable," said Republican Louisiana Senator David Vitter. "This ruling says it's not only inexcusable but that it violates the law."
Vitter and Landrieu have vowed to leverage their power to obstruct Mr. Obama's nominee to head the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dan Ashe, until deepwater permitting resumes.
Earlier this month, the same federal judge held the Interior Department in contempt of court for instituting what many say has amounted to an off-shore drilling moratorium despite his previous ruling against such a moratorium.
The delicate drilling issue continues to surface for Mr. Obama and it is now complicated by the fact that the clock is ticking.