A federal judge on Thursday sided with environmental groups by revoking more than 80 million acres of oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico that the Biden administration had approved in what had been the largest such sale in U.S. history.
The decision, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, found the administration didn’t adequately consider the effects of greenhouse gas emissions from drilling activity in the Gulf of Mexico. “This is huge,” Brettny Hardy, a lawyer for Earthjustice, an environmental group that was part of the lawsuit, told The New York Times.
“This requires the bureau to go back to the drawing board and actually consider the climate costs before it offers these leases for sale, and that’s really significant,” Hardy added. “Once these leases are issued, there’s development that’s potentially locked in for decades to come that is going to hurt our global climate.”
President Biden staked his presidency on taking on the climate crisis, but after a year on the job many activists aren’t happy with his approach. “There is no there is no way that the United States can meet its climate obligations and goals with this kind of business-as-usual fossil-fuel development,” says Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation at Earthjustice, told Rolling Stone back in September. “Twenty-five percent of the U.S. climate footprint comes from carbon emissions, from oil, gas, and coal extracted from federal lands and federal waters. It’s a huge chunk of the U.S. climate footprint and it’s the piece of the U.S. climate footprint that the president of the United States has the most responsibility and control over.”
A federal judge ruling that the administration isn’t taking the climate impact into account in its bid to sell off the Gulf of Mexico is an embarrassment for a president who aimed to build the government around doing just that.
As a candidate, Biden pledged to stop drilling on public lands, and shortly after taking office signed an executive order putting a hold on issuing new leases. (His record on drilling thus far is mixed.) The order putting a hold on new leases, however, was blocked by a federal judge in Louisiana after more than a dozen Republican attorneys general sued. The lease sales, the judge ruled, must continue. They were going to until Thursday, with administration officials believing Interior Secretary Deb Haaland otherwise could be held in contempt, according to the Times.
But environmental groups had argued that the Interior Department didn’t do its due diligence because it relied on a global warming analysis conducted under the environmentally hostile Trump administration. Judge Rudolph Contreras agreed, writing that the department “acted arbitrarily and capriciously in excluding foreign consumption from their greenhouse gas emissions.” This was required under the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Contreras wrote. If revoking lease sales caused any disruptions in the oil and gas industry, he added, this would “not outweigh the seriousness of the NEPA error in this case and the need for the agency to get it right.”
Now, the Interior Department will have to conduct a new analysis before it decides whether to hold a new auction.
Scott Lauermann, a spokesperson for the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement that the ruling is “disappointing,” saying that “offshore energy development plays a critical role in strengthening our nation’s economy and energy security.”
It’s a little difficult to take the Biden’s administration’s dedication to combating the climate crisis seriously when it’s finding itself on the the same side of a court ruling as the American Petroleum Institute.