by Elena Applebaum and Chase Donahoo

Santa Clara University School of Law students Elena Applebaum and Chase Donahoo, enrolled in Professor Catherine Sandoval’s Energy Resource Law Course, prepared comments in opposition to the Bureau of Ocean Management (BOEM) regarding their Proposed Outer Continental Shelf Leasing Program. BOEM’s proposed plan would open over 90% of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf to oil and gas lease sales that would permit exploration and extraction of oil and gas deposits in the floor surrounding the United States. Ms. Applebaum and Mr. Donahoo both submitted their comments to BOEM at the Department of Interior by March 9, 2018. Elena Applebaum’s comments are viewable online here. Chase Donahoo’s comments have not yet been posted by the Department of Interior.

Both student commenters experienced issues submitting comments to BOEM. On BOEM’s website, where comments to the Draft Proposed Program were accepted and subsequently posted online, the deadline posted was 11:59 p.m. on March 9, 2018 (without reference time zone). Chase Donahoo submitted his comments to BOEM electronically on the website one day before the deadline, on March 8, 2018, yet, as of May 9, BOEM has yet to post his comments to its federal government website. Mr. Donahoo has made several attempts to follow up with representatives of BOEM via email to encourage public posting of his comments. Although BOEM responded to Mr. Donahoo’s emails assuring him that his comments would be posted, the BOEM has not yet posted his comments as of May 9, 2018. Elena Applebuam also encountered obstacles in submitting her comments to BOEM and in their posting of her comments. At 8:59 p.m. PST (11:59 p.m. EST) on March 9, the comment submission form on BOEM’s website was closed and made inaccessible as of 11:59 p.m. EST. As a result, individuals in the United States who do not live in the Eastern Time Zone were blocked from submitting comments one to several hours earlier than their East Coast colleagues. To remedy this problem, Elena Applebaum submitted her comments to representatives at BOEM via email, and by U.S. mail. BOEM did not post Applebaum’s comments until after she followed-up with representatives at BOEM several times.

Public comments are an important step in proposing offshore oil and gas leases, because BOEM is required by law to take into consideration the interests of states. The failure of BOEM to fairly consider all public comments without excessive administrative hurdles presents a serious obstacle to this vital democratic process. Publishing public comments in a timely manner ensures that comments are made available to all to encourage a robust and informed decision-making process, as required by substantive and administrative law.

Professor Sandoval said, “I’m proud of the great work Santa Clara Law students are doing through their courses including my Energy Law class.  The comments of SCU Law students Elena Applebaum and Chase Donahoo make important contributions to the legal and public policy debate about the BOEM’s proposals, to the protection of our oceans, environment, and the respect for our laws.”