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The Trump Administration Asks a Judge to Allow Oil Exploration to Begin Despite Coastal Communities' Lawsuit

The Trump administration argued Monday in court filings that it should be allowed to begin exploratory work for offshore oil drilling while a lawsuit filed by coastal communities to block the practice is decided.

The White House first announced its plans to reopen oil and gas extraction off the Atlantic Coast of the United States in 2017, and, late last year, the Trump administration approved permits for five companies to begin using seismic air guns to search for deposits of the fossil fuels beneath the sea floor.

Coastal communities, state representatives, and environmental groups immediately pushed back against the proposal, arguing in a lawsuit that seismic surveys can harm marine animals and tourism. On Monday, the administration's lawyers asked a federal judge to block a preliminary injunction request from the coastal communities. The injunction would have halted the seismic testing while the lawsuit makes its way through the courts, but the administration claims that the practice would not have adverse effects on marine ecosystems or coastal communities.

However, as Pacific Standard reported in 2017:

Seismic airgun blasts can be harmful to fish, sea turtles, and marine mammals, causing beach strandings and hearing loss, the latter of which can spell death for whales and dolphins that rely on hearing to find food, according to Oceana, a non-profit advocacy group. Speaking to National Geographic in 2014, Oceana scientist Matthew Huelsenbeck compared the blasts to "dynamite going off in your living room or in your backyard every 10 seconds for days to weeks at a time."

It's not just charismatic marine mammals like dolphins and whales that suffer: A 2017 study published in Nature found that the airgun blasts can also wipe out populations of zooplankton, the tiny animals that drift through the water column and make up the base of marine ecosystems. "It all starts with them, so if they're affected, that affects everything—including whales," Jayson Semmens, an associate professor at the University of Tasmania and lead author on the new study, told Pacific Standard in 2017.