Interior’s Illegal Attempt to Secretly Abandon Safety Protocols Makes America’s Coasts Vulnerable to Next Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Oil Industry Joins Trump Admin’s Legal Defense of Waivers of Offshore Drilling Safety Regulations

Washington, D.C. — On behalf of Healthy Gulf, Democracy Forward pushed back against the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) efforts to dismiss the groups’ lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s secret and unlawful amendment to critical safety requirements designed to prevent another Deepwater Horizon disaster. The Plaintiff’s brief explains that API “misapprehends” the law and “misses the point” about the new, substantive Waiver Rule that Interior quietly adopted without public notice, in violation of federal law.

Secretary Bernhardt and the Interior Department’s undisclosed Waiver Rule allows the offshore drilling industry to systematically bypass safety procedures with criteria that have never been available for public comment. Healthy Gulf and Democracy Forward filed suit against the Department of Interior for this unlawful rule in September 2019.

“The Interior Department under President Trump used neither its lawful discretionary powers nor pre-existing regulations when promulgating its Well Control Waiver Rule,” said Democracy Forward Managing Senior Counsel Travis Annatoyn. “Instead, the administration employed an illegal shadow operation for blanket safety waivers that puts industry interests over the health and safety of America’s coastal communities.”

The department’s secret rule allows the offshore drilling industry to avoid procedures for testing a key safety mechanism, known as a “blowout preventer,” by complying with criteria that have never been available for public comment. The testing procedures are designed to prevent and seal an uncontrolled release of oil or gas from offshore wells. Interior’s approach to granting these waivers — which appear to have been issued at a rate of at least one per day — substantially increases the chance of another catastrophic oil spill on the Gulf Coast and leaves the Gulf community in the dark about the agency’s deregulatory offshore drilling practices.

The Waiver Rule, through which the Trump administration granted more than 960 waivers to offshore drillers between January 20, 2017, and March 22, 2018, violates federal law because:
  • It was not published in the Federal Register or circulated for public comment. Interior cannot evade the Administrative Procedure Act’s requirements merely by declining to publish a rule for comment.
  • It was not assessed under the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires Interior to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement or an Environmental Assessment to consider the effects of the proposed action. The Trump administration recently announced plans to gut NEPA’s environmental review process.

The lawsuit cites documents revealing that Scott Angelle, Director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, openly contemplated using waivers to delay safety protocols outside public view. This tracks with Angelle’s stated commitment to be an industry “partner” while serving at Interior.

Healthy Gulf and Democracy Forward’s opposition to the motion to dismiss was filed on December 21, 2020, and is available here. Learn more about the lawsuit here.


Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.

Healthy Gulf’s purpose is to collaborate with and serve communities who love the Gulf of Mexico by providing the research, communications, and coalition-building tools needed to reverse the long pattern of over exploitation of the Gulf’s natural resources.

Press Contacts

Charisma Troiano
Democracy Forward
(202) 701-1781

Dustin Renaud
Healthy Gulf
(228) 209-2194