Energy & Environment

Environmental groups sue Biden administration for resuming oil and gas lease sales

Pumpjacks operate at the Kern River Oil Field
Associated Press/Jae C. Hong
In this Jan. 16, 2015, file photo, pumpjacks operate at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield, Calif.

A coalition of environmental groups on Wednesday sued the Biden administration over its approval of oil and gas lease sales in four Western states. 

The lease sales in Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Utah mark the first since the administration temporarily froze new lease sales on federal lands in January 2021. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued the sales constitute a violation of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, under which the Interior Department has a responsibility to prevent “unnecessary or undue degradation” of public lands. 

The plaintiffs projected that the sales, as well as another series of sales scheduled in Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming, will cost billions in harms to air, water, local wildlife and public health. 

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Dakota Resource Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, Citizens for a Healthy Community, Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper, the Montana Environmental Information Center, the Rio Grande Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club, the Waterkeeper Alliance, the Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians. 

“In spite of this administration’s climate commitments, the Department of Interior is choosing to resume oil and gas leasing. The very least the BLM [Bureau of Land Management] could do is acknowledge the connected nature of these six lease sales and their collective impact on federal lands and the earth’s climate,” Melissa Hornbein, a senior attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, said in a statement. “Its failure to do so is an attempt to water down the climate effects of the decision to continue leasing, and is a clear abdication of BLM’s responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act.”  

President Biden signed an executive order pausing new leasing on federal lands shortly after taking office. In April, the administration announced lease sales would resume following a legal battle over the order. 

The lawsuit comes weeks after a similar complaint was brought by a coalition of environmental organizations against the administration over its approval of more than 3,000 drilling permits in the basins of the Permian and Powder rivers. Despite the freeze on leasing, the administration has continued to issue individual drilling permits at a 34 percent faster pace than the Trump administration in its first year, according to federal data. 

An Interior Department spokesperson declined to comment to The Hill.

Updated at 11:45 a.m.

Tags Biden Bureau of Land Management Interior Department oil and gas lease sales
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