Court nixes offshore drilling leases auctioned by Biden administration
A federal judge in Washington, D.C., just nixed offshore drilling leases issued by the Biden administration last year.
Obama appointee Rudolph Contreras vacated both the decision to hold the lease sale, which was issued by the Trump administration, and “the action taken based on that Record of Decision,” including the sale itself, which was held in November.
The judge returned the sale, known as Lease Sale 257, back to the Interior Department for further proceedings.
He took issue with underlying Trump-era calculations behind the decision, saying the department “arbitrarily” excluded the impacts the sale would have on foreign energy consumption when calculating its greenhouse gas emissions.
Environmental groups had opposed the sale, saying they did not want to increase offshore drilling because of climate change, while industry and Republican-led states have supported it.
The Biden administration last year originally issued a temporary pause on all new oil and gas lease sales, but held the sale in question after the pause was held up in court in June.
In a statement, Interior spokesperson Melissa Schwartz said that the department had been forced to carry out the lease sale because of the June decision.
“To comply with the injunction imposed in the District Court of Louisiana litigation we were compelled to proceed with Lease Sale 257 based on the previous administration’s environmental analysis and its decision to approve the lease sale,” Schwartz said. “We are reviewing the Court’s decision concerning deficiencies in that record.”
She also noted that, in a recent review, the department found “serious deficiencies” in the federal oil and gas program.
“Especially in the face of the climate crisis, we need to take the time to make significant and long overdue programmatic reforms. Our work will be guided by the law, science and sound policy,” she said.
Though the sale offered up as many as 80 million acres for lease, companies purchased the rights to drill on 1.7 million acres.
Despite the June court ruling, environmentalists criticized the sale, arguing that the Biden administration should have modified it or waited for the results of an appeal.
The sale’s opponents cheered the court’s decision, but also called on the administration to take steps to curb drilling in general.
“We are pleased that the court invalidated Interior’s illegal lease sale,” said Earthjustice Senior Attorney Brettny Hardy in a statement. “This administration must meet this critical moment and honor the campaign promises President Biden made by stopping offshore leasing once and for all. Interior should use its next 5-year leasing plan to protect our coastal communities and public waters and offer no new offshore leases.”
Meanwhile, industry argued that the administration should “defend” offshore oil production.
“The U.S. offshore region is vital to American energy security and continued leases are essential in keeping energy flowing from this strategic national asset,” said a statement from Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, which represents both offshore drilling and offshore wind interests.
“It will be incumbent on the Administration to defend responsible U.S. offshore production and to take the necessary steps to ensure continued leasing and energy production from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, for the benefit of all Americans,” he said.
This story was updated at 9:37 a.m. on Jan. 28.
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