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Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland speaks at a Tribal Nations Summit in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, in Washington, D.C. on November 15, 2021.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland speaks at a Tribal Nations Summit in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, in Washington, D.C. on November 15, 2021. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Climate Coalition Calls on Biden to Cease All Gulf of Mexico Drilling Operations

"Every new well pushes us closer to climate catastrophe," says Kristen Monsell of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Andrea Germanos

A new legal petition filed Tuesday calls on the Biden administration to stop all fossil fuel exploration and extraction plans throughout the Gulf of Mexico, saying its ongoing approval of such activities violate federal requirements to properly assess climate impacts.

The filing with the Interior Department, signed by a diverse collection of 310 groups, begins with a blunt assertion that "fossil fuels are killing us and killing our planet" and points to a federal judge's ruling last month blocking the administration's planned oil and gas lease sale of over 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Interior must stop permitting all new drilling activity in the Gulf of Mexico unless and until it conducts the comprehensive NEPA analysis mandated by law."

The Interior Department acted arbitrarily and capriciously by not adequately accounting for the greenhouse emissions impact of the sale in its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analyses, the judge found.

The petition argues that "because a federal court declared that Interior's approach to analyzing the climate impacts of offshore oil and gas leasing was unlawful, it follows that all subsequent stages of offshore oil activities are also proceeding unlawfully," running afoul not only of NEPA but also the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), with permits affecting nearly 11 million acres already leased to fossil fuel companies. 

"Without taking the hard look NEPA demands," the filing says that "Interior cannot reasonably determine whether new drilling activity meets the substantive standards of OCSLA, such as whether it will 'cause serious harm or damage to life . . . or to the marine, coastal, or human environment'; whether new drilling will be 'consistent with . . . national needs'; and whether sufficient 'environmental safeguards' are in place for these activities."

Beyond the NEPA and OCSLA violations, the filing says the continued permit approvals put "our climate, wildlife, and frontline communities at even greater risk from the numerous harms inherent in offshore oil and gas activities."

"This is a substantial concern," the filing continues, "as the science dedocument monstrates that every additional barrel of oil developed, and every additional ton of greenhouse gas emissions, worsen the climate emergency."

"Yet—in the last year alone," the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement "have approved hundreds of exploration plans, development plans, and drilling permits throughout the Gulf of Mexico without properly studying the climate impacts of doing so."

To approve futher such permits "without even taking a hard look at the harm to our climate is as unlawful as it is morally reprehensible,” said petition author Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement.

"Every new well pushes us closer to climate catastrophe," she said, "and the court's recent ruling shows that Biden has the power and the duty to confront that threat."

Not only would stopping the permits "help protect our climate, wildlife, and frontline communities while the administration develops a plan to phase out fossil fuel extraction in federal waters," states the filing, it would mark "one important step towards transforming our extractive economy to a regenerative and inclusive one in a manner that dismantles systemic racism and advances environmental, racial, and economic justice."

The document references Biden's executive order from last year in which he vowed to "deploy the full capacity of its agencies to combat the climate crisis to implement a government-wide approach that reduces climate pollution in every sector of the economy" as well as his comments at the climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, when he called for "this to be the... start of a decade of transformative action that preserves our planet." Biden has also said repeatedly that the U.S. would lead on climate action "by the power of our example."

Pointing to data showing "the U.S. fossil fuel industry is on track to account for 60% of the world's projected growth in oil and gas production this decade," the document further warns that "If U.S. fossil fuel expansion is not immediately halted, it will make it impossible to meet the 1.5°C limit and preserve a livable planet."

"In short," the petitions states, "an overwhelming amount of scientific information demonstrates that the approval of new oil and gas activity is entirely incompatible with the national interest in addressing the climate crisis by ending new fossil fuel exploration and development. This information also demonstrates why Interior must stop permitting all new drilling activity in the Gulf of Mexico unless and until it conducts the comprehensive NEPA analysis mandated by law."

According to Devorah Ancel, a senior attorney with Sierra Club, the Interior Department's directive is obvious.

"The court has made it clear that the administration can and must go back and take a hard look at the climate impact of drilling in the Gulf before they allow a single new well to be drilled," she said.

"Continuing to sign off on more offshore drilling without this analysis is completely inconsistent with the court's ruling and with the administration’s commitment to climate action and environmental justice," said Ancel. "We urge the Biden administration to take this opportunity to act on that commitment and break with decades of destruction of the Gulf region by the fossil fuel industry."

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