By – Reuters – Environmental groups sued the Biden administration on Monday to block the sale of oil and gas drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico.
The lawsuit filed by Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, and other environmental groups in federal court in Washington, D.C., seeks to stop the U.S. Interior Department from offering up drilling rights in 73.3 million acres of the oil-rich region later this month, even though the auction is mandated by last year’s landmark energy and climate law.
The lease sale would be the first in the Gulf since 2021 and would satisfy a provision in President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act requiring the sale by March 31. The law included billions of dollars of funding to address climate concerns but also protected federal drilling auctions Biden originally had promised to end.
The environmental groups said Monday that the deadline in the law doesn’t allow the government to take shortcuts with respect to its other legal obligations to conduct a thorough analysis of the impacts of the lease sale.
In its “rush” to complete its review, the groups said the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management violated federal review laws by failing to consider how leasing would impact endangered species and “arbitrarily dismissed” how onshore refineries and petrochemical plants that process the fossil fuels pulled from the Gulf would harm vulnerable communities in the region.
The Interior Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Biden administration finalized its plan to offer the Gulf drilling rights last month and said bids are due March 28. The auction is seen as a test of industry demand for investment in the Gulf just over a year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine cranked up the pressure on the administration to increase domestic supplies of oil and gas.
Last year, environmental groups challenged the sale of drilling rights off the coast of Alaska, which was also mandated in last year’s law but failed to stop that sale from going through. The government received just one bid for those rights.
The case is Healthy Gulf et al. v. Debra Haaland et al., U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, case No. 1:23-cv-00604.
For the environmental groups: Jan Hasselman and George Torgun of Earthjustice, Kristen Monsell of the Center for Biological Diversity, and Tom Zimpleman, Irene Gutierrez, and Julia Forgie of the Natural Resources Defense Council
For the government: Counsel not immediately available