Appeals court rules two Trump administration Gulf lease sales unlawful

A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled two Trump-era Interior Department oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico were unlawful. 

In the ruling, Judge Gregory C. Katsas of the Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals found the department in 2018 leased more than 150 million acres for oil exploration without properly analyzing the risk under the National Environmental Policy Act. The lease sales, 250 and 251, were among 11 proposed by the department in its 2017 five-year plan.  

In a lawsuit following the sales, a coalition of environmental groups argued the Trump administration’s evaluation had erroneously presumed adequate endorsement of safety and environmental procedures in the Gulf. A D.C. court sided with the Interior Department on April 20, prompting an appeal by the plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs in the case include Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity. 

In his ruling, Katsas sided with the plaintiffs, stating that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) failed to consider whether the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s (BSEE) “work was in fact rigorous, despite some evidence that it was not” when it came to inspection and enforcement. He noted a Government Accountability Office report that said BSEE procedures are outdated and inconsistent. 

“We agree with the environmental groups that BOEM’s failure to address the report was arbitrary. To engage in reasoned decision-making, an agency must respond to ‘objections that on their face seem legitimate,’” he wrote. 

Katsas agreed with the Interior Department on other arguments, rejecting the plaintiffs’ claims that the BOEM failed to consider possible rule changes. 

“Today’s ruling is a win for Gulf communities who are on the frontlines of climate change and our global dependence on oil and gas,” Earthjustice senior attorney Chris Eaton said in a statement.

“The court’s decision reaffirms that BOEM is failing to consider the full effects of these sales and should send a strong message to the administration and the oil and gas industry that the time to transition to clean energy and away from offshore drilling is now. With the climate crisis upon us, the administration has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect Gulf communities, waters, and wildlife and match its bold climate promises with actions by ensuring we stop auctioning off our waters to the fossil fuel industry,” Eaton said. 

In January, a D.C. district court invalidated another Gulf lease sale, 257. 

An Interior spokesperson declined comment to The Hill.

Updated at 4:41 p.m.


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