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Federal judge strikes down sale of Biden administration oil lease in Gulf of Mexico

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Federal judge strikes down sale of Biden administration oil lease in Gulf of Mexico

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WASHINGTON — A federal court has thrown out a plan to lease millions of acres in the Gulf of Mexico for offshore oil drilling, saying the Biden administration failed to conduct proper environmental review.

The ruling issued Thursday by U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras refers the proposed lease sale back to the Department of the Interior to decide on next steps. The decision said it was up to the Interior to decide whether to proceed with the sale after a revised review, abandon it, or take other action.

Environmental groups hailed the decision and said the ruling gave President Joe Biden a chance to follow through on a campaign promise to stop offshore leasing in federal waters. The decision came on the one-year anniversary of a federal moratorium on leases that Biden ordered as part of his climate change efforts.

“We are pleased that the court has struck down Interior’s illegal lease sale,” said Brettny Hardy, lead attorney for Earthjustice, one of the environmental groups that challenged the sale.

“This administration must meet this critical moment and honor President Biden’s campaign promises to halt offshore leasing once and for all,” Hardy added. “We simply cannot continue to invest in the fossil fuel industry at the risk of our communities and the increasingly warming planet.”

A spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said the agency is reviewing the decision.

Energy companies such as Shell, BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil in November offered $192 million for rights to drill federal oil and gas reserves in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Interior Department auction came after Republican-led state attorneys general Louisiana successfully challenged a suspension of sales imposed by Biden when he took office.

The companies bid on 308 plots totaling nearly 2,700 square miles (6,950 square kilometers). It was the largest acreage and second-highest bid total since Gulf-wide auctions resumed in 2017.

The auction came even as Biden tried to persuade other world leaders to step up their efforts against global warming, including at the United Nations climate talks in Scotland in early November. Although Biden has taken a number of actions on climate change, he has faced resistance in Congress and a massive $2 trillion social and environmental spending program remains stalled. The so-called “Build Back Better” plan contains $550 billion in spending and tax credits aimed at promoting clean energy.

In its 68-page decision, Contreras said the Interior failed to accurately disclose and account for the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the sale of the lease, violating a fundamental environmental law.

“Going full steam ahead with blinders on just wasn’t a reasonable step BOEM would have taken here,” he said, referring to the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Environmental reviews of the lease auction – conducted under former President Donald Trump and upheld under Biden – came to the unlikely conclusion that extracting and burning more oil and gas from the Gulf would result in less damage. emissions of climate change than to get out of it.

Similar claims in two other cases, in Alaska, were dismissed in federal courts after challenges from environmentalists.

Federal officials have since changed their emissions modeling methods, but said it was too late to use that approach for the November auction.

The National Ocean Industries Association, which represents the offshore industry, criticized the decision and called U.S. oil and gas production crucial to curbing inflation and bolstering national security.

“The offshore region of the United States is vital to American energy security, and continued leases are essential to sustaining energy from this strategic national asset,” said Erik Milito, group president. “Uncertainty around the future of the U.S. federal offshore leasing program” would benefit Russia and other adversaries, he said.

The administration has proposed another round of oil and gas sales in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and other states. Interior Department officials continued despite concluding that burning the fuels could result in billions of dollars in potential future climate damage.

Emissions from burning and extracting fossil fuels from public lands and waters account for about a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, according to the US Geological Survey.

Associated Press writer Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.



Federal judge strikes down sale of Biden administration oil lease in Gulf of Mexico

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