As the fossil fuel industry clamors for an appeal, the Biden administration on Tuesday faced pressure from environmentalists to adhere to a judge’s decision blocking a massive oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon spill.
“We urge you to comply with the court’s ruling and not appeal the court’s decision,” more than 70 climate groups wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “The [Department of the Interior] should not continue to defend unlawful drilling for oil and gas in public waters in appellate court given the impacts on our climate, clear violations of federal environmental standards, and public commitments made by President Biden to end the practice.”
“We also strongly urge the Department of the Interior to create a new five-year offshore lease program with no proposed offshore lease sales when the current program expires in June 2022,” the groups added.
Last week, as Common Dreams reported, a federal judge ruled that the Biden administration failed to sufficiently account for the emissions impact of the proposed oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest such sell-off in the nation’s history. The judge blocked the sale and instructed the Biden administration to conduct a fresh environmental review.
John Beard, CEO of the Port Arthur Community Action Network and member of the Build Back Fossil Free Coalition, said in a statement Tuesday that the judge got it “exactly right: every politician, judge, and decisionmaker in the country must consider the devastating damage that fossil fuel pollution does to our communities, our health, and our climate before they rubber-stamp a new pipeline, oil and gas lease, refinery, or chemical facility.”
“If they did, every one of these projects would be rejected,” Beard continued. “Instead of siding with the oil billionaires who will appeal this decision, President Biden should learn a lesson from this case, not appeal the court’s ruling, and listen to the Black leaders, Indigenous leaders, environmental justice advocates, and climate activists urging him to reject the dangerous fossil fuel projects currently under federal review, while rapidly and equitably deploying clean energy with a stroke of his pen.”
While Biden has pledged to end fossil fuel drilling on public lands and waters and to slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by the end of the decade, his administration has gone to bat for Trump-era fossil fuel projects and coal-friendly policies in court, infuriating environmentalists who say the White House is reneging on its commitments and harming the planet.
If the administration had succeeded in selling all 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico that it auctioned off last year, roughly 1.12 billion barrels of oil could have been produced. According to Earthjustice, “Burning this amount of oil and gas would result in more than 516 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, equivalent to 112 million cars, 130 coal-fired power plants operating for a year, or the carbon sequestered by 632 million acres of forests.”
A spokesperson for the Interior Department said the agency is reviewing the judge’s decision to block the Gulf lease sale as fossil fuel industry groups implore the administration to appeal.
“It will be incumbent on the administration to defend responsible U.S. offshore production and to take the necessary steps, including the development of a new U.S. offshore oil and gas leasing program, to ensure continued leasing and energy production from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico,” Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, said in a statement last week.
Environmentalists, for their part, warned the Biden administration against taking legal advice from the industry most responsible for the global climate crisis.
“We simply cannot continue to make investments in the fossil fuel industry to the peril of our communities and increasingly warming planet,” said Brettny Hardy, a senior attorney at Earthjustice. “This administration must meet this critical moment and honor the campaign promises President Biden made by stopping offshore leasing once and for all.”