The Wilderness Society and Friends of the Earth today filed suit over the Biden administration’s decision to offer 123 parcels covering nearly 120,000 acres (approximately 188 square miles) of federal land for oil and gas drilling on June 29 and 30. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is moving forward with the sale despite acknowledging that greenhouse gas pollution from development of the leases could result in billions of dollars in social and environmental harm — the equivalent of adding hundreds of thousands of cars to the road each year. The lease sale will also commit these public lands to oil and gas drilling before BLM completes reforms to the federal oil and gas leasing program that the agency has recognized are needed.
“The Biden administration decision to hold this lease sale directly conflicts with the commitments it has made to address climate change,” said Michael Freeman, senior attorney for Earthjustice, which represents the groups filing suit. “Holding a large lease sale in Wyoming will do nothing to reduce gas prices. But it will boost profits for oil and gas companies while the American people bear the brunt of our worsening climate crisis. We are running out of time for the administration to protect our future.”
The groups, represented by Earthjustice, argue that the Wyoming lease sale violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Administrative Procedure Act by locking in extensive oil and gas development rights without grappling with the enormous climate change costs of doing so, and without addressing protection of groundwater and wildlife.
“The staggering social cost of Biden’s latest Big Oil giveaway should be more than enough to stop the administration from proceeding with this sale,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “The code red climate moment calls for exceptional action, not business-as-usual behavior allowing the fossil fuel industry to make billions while communities pick up the tab.”
The groups also charge that BLM is violating NEPA by failing to consider reasonable alternatives, such as holding a smaller lease sale in Wyoming. At the same time as the Wyoming sale, BLM is holding lease sales in several other western states. In every other state, BLM chose to hold much smaller lease sales. But in Wyoming, BLM declined to consider that approach. In the seven other states where BLM is selling leases this month, BLM is offering a combined total of less than 10,000 acres, while in Wyoming BLM is selling more than ten times that much land.
In January 2021, President Biden directed a temporary pause on the sale of new federal oil and gas leases while the Interior Department conducted a comprehensive review of leasing and permitting practices. In June 2021, a Louisiana District Court issued a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of a nationwide pause on offshore and onshore oil and gas leasing but recognized BLM’s authority to suspend or cancel lease sales over environmental concerns. Following that ruling, the administration moved forward with sales offering leases in eight states, including the largest in Wyoming. The lease sales cover approximately 130,000 acres total.
The Biden administration has taken heat in recent weeks for its failure to fully implement its climate agenda and its delays in making needed reforms to the federal fossil fuel program. Currently, the oil and gas industry holds nearly 25 million acres of existing leases on public lands and is sitting on more than 9,000 approved permits to drill that are not being used.