A U.S. judge has invalidated the results of a sale of oil and gas concessions in the Gulf of Mexico by the Biden administration late last year for failing to take into account the impact of climate change.
Environmental groups hailed the decision as a key victory in the fight to defend Gulf communities and the planet from the worsening climate crisis.
Held in November 2021, Lease Sale 257 was the largest offshore oil and gas sale in U.S. history, offering 80.8 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for lease. It generated more than $191 million in high bids for 308 tracts covering 1.7 million acres. A total of 33 companies participated in the lease sale.
The lease sale was challenged by the environmental group Earthjustice on behalf of Healthy Gulf, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth, alleging that the federal defendants violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The lawsuit argued that the 2017 environmental analysis relied upon by the Biden administration to conduct the sale is “fatally flawed.”
“Not only was the sale contrary to the administration’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 50% to 52% by 2030 and meet our climate commitments, it is unlawful and based on a previously discredited environmental analysis,” Earthjustice said.
In the decision, Judge Rudolph Contreras of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia vacated and remanded BOEM’s 257 lease sale. The court finds that BOEM acted arbitrarily in excluding outdoor consumption from its emissions analysis.
According to the environmentalists, the court holds that the Interior Department failed to accurately disclose and account for the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the lease sale, violating a fundamental environmental law.
In response to the court’s decision, environmental groups said the decision holds Interior accountable for severely underestimating climate impacts and risks to Gulf communities before deciding on the largest oil and gas lease sale in U.S. history. This ruling ensures that waters and coastlines will be protected from further harmful drilling and eventual spills in the Gulf, where the fossil fuel industry already holds 8 million acres of leases in public waters.
Earthjustice senior attorney Brettny Hardy stated, “We simply cannot continue to invest in the fossil fuel industry to the detriment of our communities and the growing warming of the planet. This administration must rise to this critical moment and deliver on the campaign promises President Biden made by stopping offshore leasing once and for all.”
Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf, commented, “Today we can look forward to the day when we stop selling 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.”
Hallie Templeton, legal director of Friends of the Earth, stressed that the court’s decision is victorious, but the fight is not over yet. Templeton also noted that the groups will continue to hold the Biden administration accountable for making “illegal decisions” that contradict its promise to take urgent action on climate change.
Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry is disappointed with the decision. As reported by Reuters, the president of the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA), Erik Milito, said that uncertainty surrounding the future of offshore drilling in U.S. waters could only strengthen the geopolitical influence of the most emitting – and adversarial – nations, such as Russia.