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The sun sets over container ships and oil platforms off the coast of Huntington Beach, California on January 12, 2021. (Photo: Leonard Ortiz/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

The sun sets over container ships and oil platforms off the coast of Huntington Beach, California on January 12, 2021. (Photo: Leonard Ortiz/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

Biden Admin Slammed for Plowing Ahead With 'Illegal' Lease Sale Amid Offshore Oil Spills

One attorney said her environmental group is "deeply disappointed by the Biden administration's failure to follow the law and to fulfill its promises. So we will see them in court."

Kenny Stancil

Less than 48 hours after one of the worst oil spills in Southern California history was first spotted—and as officials continue to monitor oil leaks that started weeks ago when Hurricane Ida collided with the Gulf Coast's extensive fossil fuel infrastructure—the Biden administration on Monday confirmed its plan to expand offshore drilling, provoking resistance from environmental advocates.

"This is a continuation of the prior administration's reckless and unlawful behavior."
—Brettny Hardy, Earthjustice

The administration's move to put more than 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico on the federal government's auction block flies in the face of President Joe Biden's 2020 campaign promise to ban new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters; it also violates the law, according to Earthjustice, which released a statement after a notice of Lease Sale 257, scheduled for November 17, was officially entered into the Federal Register.

"The Biden administration's decision to open up the Gulf to more drilling is not only hypocritical to their stated goals to act on climate, it is illegal," said Earthjustice attorney Brettny Hardy. "The administration is relying on an environmental analysis that is deeply flawed and outdated."

Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on August 31, immediately after the Biden administration said that it would auction off over 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling.

First announced just two days after Hurricane Ida pummeled Louisiana, the upcoming lease sale would generate a substantial amount of greenhouse gas pollution, producing up to 1.1 billion barrels of oil and 4.2 trillion cubic feet of gas over the next five decades, according to the Interior Department's own estimates.

The lawsuit—submitted to a federal court in the District of Columbia on behalf of Healthy Gulf, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and the Center for Biological Diversity—argues that the 2017 environmental analysis the Biden administration is relying on to hold the lease sale ignores new information exposing the growing danger of pipeline leaks as well as "the dire state of the climate crisis and the potential for increased harm to endangered species."

A Government Accountability Office report published earlier this year revealed that the Interior Department "does not adequately conduct subsea inspections of offshore pipelines or ensure that oil companies properly decommission older pipelines," Earthjustice reiterated on Monday.

"Plaintiffs alerted Interior to [the 2017 review's] many problems, and yet, they are plowing ahead with a Trump administration plan," said Hardy. "This is a continuation of the prior administration's reckless and unlawful behavior, all while the real repercussions of offshore drilling are apparent by the unfolding oil disasters in both the Pacific and the Gulf."

As Common Dreams reported over the weekend, a pipeline burst off the coast of Huntington Beach, California—sending tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil gushing into the Pacific Ocean and onto area shores in an ongoing disaster that has killed fish and birds and jeopardized the local wetlands ecosystem.

Moreover, "in the two weeks after Ida, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a total of 55 spill reports, including a spill near a fragile nature reserve," the New York Times noted last month. "It underscores the frailty of the region's offshore oil and gas infrastructure to intensifying storms fueled by climate change."

Amid this summer's wave of extreme weather disasters, Biden on September 7 described the climate emergency as a "code red" that "poses an existential threat to our lives."

Although the U.S. president echoed United Nations' Secretary-General António Guterres' impassioned rhetoric about the life-threatening implications of failing to rapidly slash fossil fuel emissions, his administration concluded that the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change "does not present sufficient cause" to halt its proposed sales of oil and gas leases for public lands and waters.

The Interior Department's resurrection of its oil and gas leasing program came in response to a June court ruling by a Trump-appointed federal judge who sided with a group of Republican governors and attorneys general that sued the Biden administration in March over its temporary pause on new lease sales for public lands and waters.

According to a new paper released last week by the Center for American Progress, the fossil fuel lobby gave a combined $4.5 million to the campaigns of the 14 governors and attorneys general who sued Biden over his January executive order suspending new oil and gas leasing.

The moratorium was meant to give administration officials time to conduct a comprehensive review of the "potential climate and other impacts associated with oil and gas activities on public lands or in offshore waters."

Progressive critics, including a coalition of environmental groups that recently filed formal objections to Biden's plan for fossil fuel leasing on public lands, have argued that while the federal judge's injunction challenges the implementation of the White House's ban, it does not require the Interior Department to resume oil and gas leasing.

Biden administration officials do not have to greenlight more drilling, experts say, because they still have the regulatory authority to limit new lease sales.

Earthjustice, Hardy said Monday, is "deeply disappointed by the Biden administration's failure to follow the law and to fulfill its promises. So we will see them in court."

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