Joe Biden and Deb Haaland

U.S. President Joe Biden listens as Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks at the White House on October 8, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Biden Admin Sued for Hiding Records on Opposition to Fossil Fuel Phaseout

The lawsuit aims to "shed light on the Biden administration's dumbfounding refusal to align our country's federal fossil fuel programs with its own climate goals," said one campaigner.

A national conservation group sued the Biden administration on Tuesday for failing to respond to a public records request pertaining to the Interior Department's dismissal of a petition that called for a phaseout of oil and gas extraction on federal lands and waters.

Submitted last year, the petition from more than 360 environmental and Indigenous organizations called on the Interior Department to initiate a rulemaking process aimed at reducing oil and gas production on public lands and waters by 98% by 2035.

The department rejected the petition earlier this year, claiming that it "has a robust rulemaking agenda already underway to address the climate crisis and implement reforms to our conventional energy programs" and doesn't have adequate resources to "undertake the proposed rulemaking at this time."

The administration's reply came after the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) sued the administration for not responding to the petition for more than a year.

CBD is now taking legal action against the Interior Department again, this time for violating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

In July, CBD requested that the Interior Department turn over records related to the agency's deliberations about the fossil fuel phaseout petition and its response.

"At the time of the filing of this complaint, over 130 days have passed since the Center submitted its FOIA request to Interior. To date, however, Interior has not provided any requested records," the new lawsuit states. "Accordingly, the Center challenges Interior's FOIA violations resulting from its failure to respond to the Center's request and seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to require Interior to promptly search for and produce all responsive records without further delay."

"The administration needs to explain its failure to take bold, urgent action but instead it's hiding public records."

Taylor McKinnon, CBD's southwest director, said in a statement that the lawsuit "will shed light on the Biden administration's dumbfounding refusal to align our country's federal fossil fuel programs with its own climate goals."

"All-time high federal oil production is causing our planet's life support systems to shut down under the stresses of the climate emergency," said McKinnon. "The administration needs to explain its failure to take bold, urgent action but instead it's hiding public records."

The suit comes days before the start of the COP28 climate summit in the United Arab Emirates, closely watched and critically important talks that Biden has decided to skip.

Under Biden's leadership, U.S. crude oil production is on pace to surge to a record 12.9 million barrels this year. During his first two years in office, the Biden administration approved more than 6,400 permits for oil and gas drilling, exceeding the number of approvals during former President Donald Trump's first two years.

According to a CBD analysis released Monday, drilling projects that the Biden administration has approved could "erase" emissions-reduction progress from the Inflation Reduction Act, the president's signature legislative achievement.

"The Biden administration is canceling out its own climate progress by greenlighting major oil and gas projects," said Shaye Wolf, CBD's climate science director.

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