Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

Clean up after Deepwater Horizon spill

Support ships were seen near efforts to recover oil and cap the Deepwater Horizon spill site on July 3, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

'Huge Victory' as Judge Blocks Biden's Oil Lease Sale in Gulf of Mexico

"The Biden administration must end new leasing and phase out existing drilling," said one advocate. "Anything less would be a gross failure of climate leadership."

Jake Johnson

A federal judge late Thursday blocked the Biden administration's massive oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, a significant win for environmentalists as they work to prevent the Interior Department from handing public lands and waters over to the fossil fuel industry.

In his 68-page decision (pdf), Judge Rudolph Contreras of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. wrote that the Biden administration violated federal law by not adequately accounting for the emissions impact of the sale, which would have been the biggest offshore oil and gas lease sell-off in the country's history.

"This is a huge victory for our climate, endangered whales, and Gulf communities."

Climate groups characterized the sale—held just days after the COP26 summit in Glasgow—as the equivalent of "lighting the fuse of a massive carbon bomb."

"The Department of the Interior acted arbitrarily and capriciously in excluding foreign consumption from their greenhouse gas emissions calculation," Contreras, an Obama appointee, found.

The Biden Interior Department, which now must conduct a fresh environmental review, had relied on an analysis completed under the Trump administration, which was teeming with allies of the fossil fuel industry.

Brettny Hardy, senior attorney for Earthjustice—a group that sued the Biden administration over the lease sale—applauded the judge's decision Thursday and said that "we simply cannot continue to make investments in the fossil fuel industry to the peril of our communities and increasingly warming planet."

"Interior should use its next five-year leasing plan to protect our coastal communities and public waters and offer no new offshore leases," Hardy added. "We can no longer afford to do anything less."

On the campaign trail, President Joe Biden pledged to ban new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters, a promise that climate advocates cautiously applauded while demanding more ambitious action. One of the first executive orders Biden signed as president directed the Interior Department to pause all new oil and natural gas leasing on public lands and offshore waters.

Yet, over the past 12 months, the Biden administration has approved drilling permits at a faster rate than its oil-friendly predecessor. According to new federal data, the Biden administration signed off on more than 3,550 permits for oil and gas drilling on public lands in its first year in power.

Around a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions—which Biden has promised to slash—come from fossil fuel extraction on public lands.

Administration officials insist they've been hamstrung by a Trump-appointed federal judge who, in a June ruling, blocked Biden's temporary pause on new drilling leases. But climate groups argue the judge's order did not require the administration to move ahead with the huge lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico—a conclusion echoed by the Biden Justice Department.

Following Contreras' ruling on Thursday, Kristen Monsell of the Center for Biological Diversity said she is "thrilled the court saw through the Biden administration's horribly reckless decision to hold the largest oil lease sale in U.S. history without carefully studying the risks."

"This is a huge victory for our climate, endangered whales, and Gulf communities," said Monsell. "New oil leases are fundamentally incompatible with addressing the climate emergency, and they'll cause more oil spills and harm to wildlife and people in the Gulf."

"For the sake of our climate and frontline communities," she added, "the Biden administration must end new leasing and phase out existing drilling. Anything less would be a gross failure of climate leadership."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Rights Group Urges Civilian Safeguards as Biden Sends Troops Back to Somalia

"A culture of impunity for civilian loss breeds resentment and mistrust among the population and undermines efforts to build a more rights-respecting state," Human Rights Watch's regional director asserted.

Brett Wilkins ·


Australian Progressives Hail 'Greenslide' Amid Big Left Wins and Morrison's Ouster

"People have backed the Greens in record numbers and delivered a massive mandate for action on climate and inequality," said party leader Adam Bandt.

Brett Wilkins ·


Omar Leads Charge Against Baby Formula Monopolies Amid US Shortage

Democrats urge the FTC to probe "any unfair or unsustainable practices, like deceptive marketing, price gouging, and stock buybacks, that may be weakening our nutritional formula supply."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Arbitrary, Racist, and Unfair': Judge Blocks Biden From Ending Title 42

"Only the coyotes profiteering off of people seeking protection have reason to celebrate this ill-reasoned ruling," said one migrant rights advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·


'This Is a War' for Democratic Party's Future, Says Sanders of AIPAC's Super PAC

"They are doing everything they can to destroy the progressive movement in this country," said the senator.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo