"Our lawsuit is another stand for the Gulf ecosystem, its nearby communities, and all wildlife that continue to suffer at the hands of Big Oil," said Friends of the Earth's legal director.
Faced with a rapidly warming world that is hurtling toward terrifying tipping points, climate groups on Monday filed a lawsuit over the Biden administration's five-year plan for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico—and so did the fossil fuel industry.
Both suits target the 2024-29 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. When the plan was finalized in December, the U.S. Department of the Interior highlighted that it features the fewest lease sales in history—just three—and the Inflation Reduction Act ties offshore wind development to continued oil and gas leasing.
Despite scientists' warnings about continued fossil fuel extraction and use, the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group, is fighting for more lease sales. API senior vice president and general counsel Ryan Meyers on Monday claimed that the Biden administration "has used every tool at its disposal to restrict access to vast energy resources in federal waters."
Meanwhile, green groups argue that the administration hasn't gone far enough in terms of tackling the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency and delivering on the campaign promises of Democratic President Joe Biden, who is seeking reelection in November.
"It is time for us to transition away from these industries, not enable further drilling in the years to come."
“Fossil fuel development is untenable if we want a livable future," declared Brettny Hardy, an attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing the climate groups. "The oil and gas industry is already sitting on 9 million acres of undeveloped leases. They certainly are not entitled to more."
"Although we acknowledge the government's focus on climate impacts with the release of this five-year offshore leasing plan, we are taking legal action today because we are concerned about how it will jeopardize the health of overburdened communities," Hardy explained.
Kristen Schlemmer of Bayou City Waterkeeper in Houston stressed that in her city and "along the Texas Gulf Coast, the stakes are high."
"More fossil fuels means more carbon emissions, which means more intense hurricanes hitting the inadequately guarded petrochemical infrastructure that is already in place," she said. "It is time for us to transition away from these industries, not enable further drilling in the years to come."
In addition to emphasizing the dangers of what Oceana campaign director Joseph Gordon called a "deadly cycle of drilling and spilling," the climate and Gulf groups represented by Earthjustice also slammed the API suit, which Brad Sewell of the Natural Resources Defense Council described as "unfounded and unwarranted."
Pete Stauffer, ocean protection manager at the Surfrider Foundation, argued that the industry suit "belies the fact that new offshore drilling is broadly unpopular and is not needed to meet our nation's energy needs," noting that the administration's plan "was informed by nearly a million public comments" against new extraction in U.S. waters.
Friends of the Earth legal director Hallie Templeton said that "we are not surprised by this industry challenge, given its track record of suing every time the Biden administration makes any attempt to break free from fossil fuels."
"Our lawsuit is another stand for the Gulf ecosystem, its nearby communities, and all wildlife that continue to suffer at the hands of Big Oil," Templeton added.
The other groups joining the green groups' challenge to the five-year plan are Healthy Gulf, Sierra Club, and Turtle Island Restoration Network. According toReuters, both lawsuits were filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The competing legal battles were launched as 21 protesters with the youth-led Sunrise Movement were arrested on Monday for blockading Biden's reelection campaign headquarters in Delaware and demanding that he declare a climate emergency.
The president has faced criticism for not only declining to declare a climate emergency and continuing fossil fuel lease sales but also skipping the United Nations summit late last year and supporting the Willow oil project and Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Biden has also come under fire for backing the expansion of the liquefied natural gas industry, though his administration won praise from green groups last month for halting approvals for LNG exports to non-Fair Trade Agreement countries—a move that former President Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner, has vowed to reverse if he is elected later this year.