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January 27, 2022

Court Finds Massive Offshore Oil Lease Sale in Gulf Based on Faulty Legal Analysis

Victory: Environmental groups respond to court decision halting lease sale

Contacts

Lauren Wollack, Earthjustice, (202) 285-5809, lwollack@earthjustice.org

Brittany Miller, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0746, bmiller@foe.org

Kristen Monsell, Center for Biological Diversity, (914) 806-3467, kmonsell@biologicaldiversity.org

Dustin Renaud, Healthy Gulf, (228) 209-2194, dustin@healthygulf.org

Gabby Brown, Sierra Club, (914) 261-4626, gabby.brown@sierraclub.org

Washington, D.C.

Today, the D.C. District Court invalidated the Department of Interior's decision to offer 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas leasing, marking a pivotal victory in the fight to defend Gulf communities and the planet from the worsening climate crisis. The court held that Interior failed to accurately disclose and consider the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the lease sale, violating a bedrock environmental law.

Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of Healthy Gulf, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and Friends of the Earth on Aug. 31 against Secretary of the Interior Debra Haaland and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management following the notice of lease sale 257. The lawsuit argued that the 2017 environmental analysis that the Biden administration relied on to hold the sale is fatally flawed. The sale was not only counter to the administration’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 50% to 52% by 2030 and meet our climate commitments, but it is illegal and based on previously debunked environmental analysis.

The D.C. District Court decision holds Interior accountable for grossly underestimating the climate impacts and risks to Gulf communities before deciding to hold the largest oil and gas lease sale in U.S. history. This ruling ensures our waters and coasts will be protected from additional harmful drilling and eventual spills in the Gulf, where the fossil fuel industry is already sitting on 8 million acres of leases on public waters. A clean energy transition is essential for Gulf communities and our increasingly warming planet. Instead of expanding harmful drilling, we must meet this once-in-a-lifetime moment to protect our public lands and waters and move away from our reliance on fossil fuels.

By vacating Interior’s decision to hold this illegal lease sale, the court has ensured that no harm will result from it. Whatever Interior decides to do, it must start with a blank slate and consider the full environmental costs associated with auctioning off our public waters to the fossil fuel industry. We’re confident that a full assessment will lead to the undeniable conclusion that holding a lease sale will cause irreparable harm to Gulf communities and the climate.

“We are pleased that the court invalidated Interior’s illegal lease sale,” said Earthjustice’s Senior Attorney Brettny Hardy. “We simply cannot continue to make investments in the fossil fuel industry to the peril of our communities and increasingly warming planet. This administration must meet this critical moment and honor the campaign promises President Biden made by stopping offshore leasing once and for all. Interior should use its next 5-year leasing plan to protect our coastal communities and public waters and offer no new offshore leases. We can no longer afford to do anything less.”

“This is a victory for all Gulf communities impacted by the onshore pollution from offshore drilling in the Gulf,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf. “Today, we can look forward to the day when we stop selling off our public waters for pennies on the dollar when a just transition to a clean energy future is critical to our very survival. Now, the Gulf can be seen as a viable field for offshore wind energy that will power our future.”

“This is a huge victory for our climate, Rice’s whales and Gulf communities,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I’m thrilled the court saw through the Biden administration’s horribly reckless decision to hold the largest oil lease sale in U.S. history without carefully studying the risks. New oil leases are fundamentally incompatible with addressing the climate emergency and they’ll cause more oil spills and harm to wildlife and people in the Gulf. For the sake of our climate and frontline communities, the Biden administration must end new leasing and phase out existing drilling. Anything less would be a gross failure of climate leadership.”

“Today’s decision is a victorious outcome not only for the Gulf’s communities, wildlife, and ecosystem, but also for the warming planet,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director at Friends of the Earth. “But the fight is not over. We will continue to hold the Biden administration accountable for making unlawful decisions that contradict its pledge to take swift, urgent action on ‘code red’ climate and environmental justice priorities.”

“The Biden administration’s failure to adequately evaluate the climate impacts of this massive lease sale wasn’t just out of step with their stated commitment to climate action, it was also illegal,” said Sierra Club Senior Attorney Devorah Ancel. “We are glad that the court has held them accountable for this reckless action, and we will continue to fight to protect Gulf Coast communities from the dangers of offshore drilling and climate chaos."

Oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Lucasz Z / Shutterstock

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.