Despite Environmental Commitments Made at COP, Biden Administration Offers Over 80 Million Acres of Gulf of Mexico for Oil, Gas Drilling
Gulf and environmental groups fight to stop issuance of leases with active lawsuit
Today, as the Biden administration offers more than 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas leasing, Gulf and environmental groups vow to continue their legal challenge to stop this commitment to decades of greenhouse gas emissions. This litigation is one part of a comprehensive campaign urging the Biden administration to stop the sale, including a letter to President Biden from more than 250 organizations, direct actions in New Orleans and Washington, D.C., and the delivery of petitions with more than 100,000 signatures of individuals opposing the sale. The sale is not only counter to the administration’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions but it is illegal and based on previously debunked environmental analysis.
Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on Aug. 31 in federal court in the District of Columbia against Interior and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on behalf of Healthy Gulf, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and the Center for Biological Diversity challenging Interior’s decision to hold this sale. The lawsuit argues that the 2017 environmental analysis the Biden administration is relying on to hold the sale is fatally flawed. Among other things, it ignores new information showing the rising dangers from pipeline leaks.
The case will be fully briefed by mid-December, and Earthjustice is moving to a decision before the leases become effective. The federal government has told the court that the earliest these leases would be effective would be Jan. 1, 2022.
“The dichotomy between holding a lease sale and committing to cut back U.S. carbon emissions is glaring,” said Brettny Hardy, Earthjustice attorney. “The administration is violating the law by moving forward with the sale based on incorrect data that does not properly reflect the impact that giving more land to industry for oil production would have on the Gulf of Mexico, the surrounding ecosystems, and our planet. By selling these leases, the Biden administration is not solving the oil prices of today, but instead increasing the United States’ climate heating emissions tomorrow.”
“If Louisiana is going to have any chance of saving our land, we need real climate action and a serious investment in renewable energy,” said Healthy Gulf’s Executive Director Cynthia Sarthou. “This lease sale takes us in the wrong direction — ensuring that the oil industry can continue business as usual for decades.”
“The Biden administration is lighting the fuse on a massive carbon bomb in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s hard to imagine a more dangerous, hypocritical action in the aftermath of the climate summit,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This will inevitably lead to more catastrophic oil spills, more toxic climate pollution, and more suffering for communities and wildlife along the Gulf Coast. Biden has the authority to stop this, but instead he’s casting his lot in with the fossil fuel industry and worsening the climate emergency.”
“This morning was met with extreme disappointment, depleted hope, and shattered trust,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director at Friends of the Earth. “The Biden administration has opted to move forward with relinquishing all remaining parcels of the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas interests. The decision is based on unlawful analysis that ignores climate change and the serious environmental injustice posed to the Gulf’s frontline communities. We are left aghast that the administration has ignored its clear authority to defer the sale and our final hope lies with the federal court to remedy these violations.”
“Frontline communities of the Gulf have been sacrificed to fossil fuel interests for far too long. We cannot continue with business as usual and yet another sale of millions of acres of Gulf waters for oil and gas extraction,” said Sierra Club Lands Protection Director Athan Manuel. “The administration’s failure to do an analysis of the climate impact of this sale, especially in the aftermath of COP26, is completely out of step with President Biden’s stated commitment to meaningfully address the climate crisis.”
The environmental analysis of the sale relies on improper modeling to conclude that not having the lease sale will result in more greenhouse gases. This approach was rejected by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year and in August a federal district court in Alaska found that the same conclusion was deeply flawed after the Department of the Interior tried to rely on it again for a large oil development project in Alaska’s Western Arctic.
The analysis is not only flawed but also out of date. The Interior Department last looked at the environmental impacts of a lease sale in 2017. Since Interior completed its environmental analysis, significant new information has emerged that demonstrates, among other things, the dire state of the climate crisis and the potential for increased harm to endangered species, including the Rice’s whale, one of the most endangered whales on the planet, that is only found in the Gulf of Mexico.
Interior estimates that the 80+ million acre megasale will lead to the production of up to 1.12 billion barrels of oil, 4.42 trillion feet of gas. Burning this amount of oil and gas would result in more than 516 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, equivalent to 112 million cars, 130 coal-fired power plants operating for a year, or the carbon sequestered by 632 million acres of forests.
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