Judge who blocked drilling moratorium has oil investments

The pushback started hitting the wire services almost as soon as Judge Martin Feldman overturned the moratorium on deepwater drilling imposed by Barack Obama and Ken Salazar.  It turns out that Judge Feldman has — or rather, hadsignificant investments in a wide variety of oil industry companies, including Transocean, the vendor running the Deepwater Horizon platform at the center of the catastrophe in the Gulf.  No one is actually sure whether Feldman still has those investments or not:

The Louisiana judge who struck down the Obama administration’s six-month ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has reported extensive investments in the oil and gas industry, according to financial disclosure reports. He’s also a new member of a secret national security court.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, a 1983 appointee of President Ronald Reagan, reported owning less than $15,000 in stock in 2008 in Transocean Ltd., the company that owned the sunken DeepwaterHorizon drilling rig. …

Feldman’s 2008 financial disclosure report — the most recent available — also showed investments in Ocean Energy, a Houston-based company, as well as Quicksilver Resources, Prospect Energy, Peabody Energy, Halliburton, Pengrowth Energy Trust, Atlas Energy Resources, Parker Drilling and others. Halliburton was also involved in the doomed Deepwater Horizon project.

Feldman did not respond to requests for comment and to clarify whether he still holds some or all of these investments.

He’s one of many federal judges across the Gulf Coast region with money in oil and gas. Several have disqualified themselves from hearing spill-related lawsuits and others have sold their holdings so they can preside over some of the 200-plus cases.

But as even the AP admits, it hardly makes a difference, thanks to the incompetent handling of the moratorium by the Obama administration:

Although Feldman ruled in favor of oil interests Tuesday, one expert said his reasoning appeared sound because the six-month ban was overly broad.

“There’s been some concern that he is biased toward the industry, but I don’t see it in this opinion,” said Tim Howard, a Northeastern University law professor who also represents businesses and people claiming economic losses in several spill-related lawsuits. “They overreacted and just shut an industry down, rather than focusing on where the problems are.”

That was what Feldman essentially said in his ruling, writing that the blanket moratorium “seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger.”

The extent of Feldman’s holdings at present aren’t known at all.  It’s possible that he still holds them, although no one seems to know one way or the other.  It’s also possible that these are smaller investments in a diverse portfolio that would have little influence on Feldman’s legal analysis at all.  In fact, given the facts of the case, that seems a lot more likely than the implication of Feldman being an oil-industry sleeper on the federal bench, just waiting for his chance to strike it rich after 27 years of service on this district court.

Furthermore, most Americans probably have similar investments.  Do you own a 401K or have a company or union pension plan?  You probably own stock in oil interests — and likely quite a bit, in terms of percentage of portfolio.  Over 70% of working Americans are in the investor class, one of the great and unsung revolutions of the 1980s, thanks to changes in tax laws that allowed for massive investment in capital markets.

If Feldman’s decision was wrong or corrupt, an appeals court will overturn it.  Salazar’s announcement of a new moratorium should indicate that the White House doesn’t think it can win on appeal and that Feldman got it right when he noted the failings of their first attempt to stop drilling on already-permitted projects.

Update: Don’t miss an excellent column from the Boss Emeritus today, “Ken Salazar Gets an Ass-Kicking”:

Allow me to be more injudicious: Salazar lied. Salazar committed fraud. Salazar sullied the reputations of the experts involved and abused his authority.

And for what purpose? To exploit the Gulf crisis, appease the eco-extremists, and stymie the economic recovery to which the Obama White House pays oily lip service.

The scientists whose views were misrepresented reportedly received an apology from the evidence-doctoring Salazar, but where are the consequences? Where is the accountability? Terrific news: Salazar, the report-rigger, is in charge of overseeing the new overseer. That’s right. The Teflon Interior Secretary spent Monday afternoonswearing in another bureaucrat, litigator Michael Bromwich, who will head the newly-named “Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement” (formerly the beleaguered Minerals Management Service).

According to Salazar, Bromwich “will be a key part of our team as we continue to change the way the Department of the Interior does business.” Present company exempted, of course.

Few connect the dots as well as Michelle does, and this column is no exception.  Read it all.