The Progressive


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For Immediate Release
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Lawsuit Challenges Biden Decision to Open 73.3 Million Acres of Gulf of Mexico for Oil Leasing

Gulf community and environmental groups filed a legal challenge in federal court today to the Department of the Interior’s lease sale 259. The sale would offer 73.3 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas leasing.

The Biden administration previously canceled this and other sales, citing delays and “conflicting court rulings.” Then Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) included provisions for Gulf of Mexico oil leasing in Biden’s landmark climate legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law in August 2022. The sale is now scheduled for March 28, 2023, less than a month before the 13th memorial of the Deepwater Horizon BP Disaster.

While the Inflation Reduction Act directs the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to hold a lease sale, it does not require such a vast area to be auctioned to industry, nor does it exempt the sale from any existing laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act.

Lease sale 259 would offer up all unleased areas in the western and central Gulf of Mexico, which could lock in a massive drilling operation to extract more than 1 billion barrels of oil and 4.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas over the next 50 years, directly contradicting the administration’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition to clean energy.

The complaint notes that in approving this lease sale, BOEM did not consider the health hazards it will cause for Gulf communities living near oil refineries and other polluting infrastructure connected with offshore drilling. Nor did it adequately consider the grave climate harms of such a massive new source of fossil fuel development. The Gulf ecosystem and surrounding communities are already absorbing the impacts of climate change through sea-level rise, coastal erosion and increased storms.

This lease sale also jeopardizes the survival of endangered marine life. Five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles inhabit Gulf waters, and the Gulf is the exclusive home of the endangered Rice’s whale, whose numbers may have dwindled to fewer than 50 individuals.

Earthjustice, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity filed the lawsuit in federal court in the District of Columbia on behalf of Healthy Gulf, Bayou City Waterkeeper, Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth. It was filed against Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management following the final notice of lease sale 259.

Earthjustice and clients released the following statements:

“We're at a point where we should be moving away from fossil fuels, not enabling an astounding amount of drilling for more than a generation to come,” said Kristen Schlemmer, legal director and waterkeeper for Bayou City Waterkeeper. “For communities along the Houston Ship Channel, which are predominantly Black, brown, and lower-income, lease sale 259 creates an especially toxic combination of risks. More drilling means more facilities in their backyards. This will compound already elevated rates of cancer and heart and lung diseases, while also increasing risks during major storms.”

“BOEM must characterize the environmental impact of this lease sale, and include a full assessment of impacts on low-income and minority communities living near the petrochemical industries that process oil and gas resulting from this Gulf offshore leasing,” said Andrew Whitehurst, water program director for Healthy Gulf.

“Holding this offshore oil lease sale without careful environmental review is both unlawful and morally reprehensible,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “More oil drilling in the Gulf is too big a risk for the communities and wildlife living there, and too harmful to the climate. The Biden administration needs to end new extraction, phase out drilling, and start taking its commitment to climate action seriously.”

“This administration has pledged to oversee a historic transition to clean energy, but actions speak louder than words,” said Earthjustice attorney George Torgun. “We don’t need a billion new barrels of crude oil threatening people and ecosystems in the Gulf.”

“Selling off more of our lands and waters to the fossil fuel industry is the last thing we should do at a time when we need to be rapidly transitioning away from oil and gas to meet our nation’s climate goals and create a livable planet for all,” said Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club's Lands Protection Program. “Offshore drilling devastates millions of acres of nature, contributes to an increasing number of climate disasters, and creates a quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions. While the IRA represents a historic step forward in achieving our nation’s climate goals, we cannot let the bad provisions of the bill, including oil and gas leasing, undercut what we stand to gain.”

“Yet again we find ourselves in the courtroom with the Biden administration over another unlawful and disastrous oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director of Friends of the Earth. “With each carbon bomb he drops, the president’s pledge to end oil and gas drilling feels long forgotten. BOEM should be proceeding with the utmost caution and ensuring that its oil and gas decisions comply with federal laws, not adding to our climate crisis.”

“As steward of the country’s public lands and waters, Interior has a duty to fully consider the harms offshore leasing can cause, from air pollution to oil spills, and beyond,” said Irene Gutierrez, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This vast lease sale poses threats to Gulf communities and endangered species — like Rice’s whale — while contributing to the climate crisis this region knows far too well. We are holding the agency to its obligation to carefully assess the fallout of this giveaway to Big Oil.”

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

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