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Judge Throws Out Oil Lease Sale in Gulf01/28 06:04


   WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal court has rejected a plan to lease millions of 
acres in the Gulf of Mexico for offshore oil drilling, saying the Biden 
administration did not adequately take into account the lease sale's effect on 
planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, violating a bedrock environmental law.

   The decision Thursday by U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras in Washington 
sends the proposed lease sale back to the Interior Department to decide next 
steps. The judge said it was up to Interior to decide whether to go forward 
with the sale after a revised review, scrap it or take other steps.

   Environmental groups hailed the decision and said the ruling gave President 
Joe Biden a chance to follow through on a campaign promise to stop offshore 
leasing in federal waters. The decision was released on the one-year 
anniversary of a federal leasing moratorium Biden ordered as part of his 
efforts to combat climate change.

   "We are pleased that the court invalidated Interior's illegal lease 
sale,"said Brettny Hardy, a senior attorney for Earthjustice, one of the 
environmental groups that challenged the sale.

   "This administration must meet this critical moment and honor the campaign 
promises President Biden made by stopping offshore leasing once and for all,'' 
Hardy added. "We simply cannot continue to make investments in the fossil fuel 
industry to the peril of ourcommunitiesand increasingly warming planet.''

   A spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said the agency was 
reviewing the decision.

   Energy companies including Shell, BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil offered a 
combined $192 million for drilling rights on federal oil and gas reserves in 
the Gulf of Mexico in November.

   The Interior Department auction came after attorneys general from Republican 
states led by Louisiana successfully challenged a suspension on sales that 
Biden imposed when he took office.

   Companies bid on 308 tracts totaling nearly 2,700 square miles (6,950 square 
kilometers). It marked the largest acreage and second-highest bid total since 
Gulf-wide bidding resumed in 2017.

   The auction was conducted even as Biden has tried to cajole other world 
leaders into strengthening efforts against global warming, including at United 
Nations climate talks in Scotland in early November. While Biden has taken a 
number of actions on climate change, he has faced resistance in Congress and a 
sweeping $2 trillion social and environmental spending package remains stalled. 
The so-called "Build Back Better" plan contains $550 billion in spending and 
tax credits aimed at promoting clean energy.

   In his 68-page ruling, Contreras said Interior failed to consider the 
greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the lease sale, violating the 
National Environmental Policy Act, a bedrock environmental law.

   "Barreling full-steam ahead with blinders on was simply not a reasonable 
action for BOEM to have taken here,'' he said, referring to Interior's Bureau 
of Ocean Energy Management.

   Environmental reviews of the lease auction -- conducted under former 
President Donald Trump and affirmed under Biden -- reached the unlikely 
conclusion that extracting and burning more oil and gas from the Gulf would 
result in fewer climate-changing emissions than leaving it.

   Similar claims in two other cases, in Alaska, were rejected by federal 
courts after challenges from environmentalists.

   Federal officials have since changed their emissions modeling methods but 
said it was too late to use that approach for the November auction.

   The National Ocean Industries Association, which represents the offshore 
industry, slammed the ruling and called U.S. oil and gas production crucial to 
curbing inflation and strengthening national security.

   "The U.S. offshore region is vital to American energy security and continued 
leases are essential in keeping energy flowing from this strategic national 
asset,'' said Erik Milito, the group's president. "Uncertainty around the 
future of the U.S. federal offshore leasing program" would benefit Russia and 
other adversaries, he said.

   The administration has proposed another round of oil and gas sales in 
Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and other states. Interior Department officials 
proceeded despite concluding that burning the fuels could lead to billions of 
dollars in potential future climate damages.

   Emissions from burning and extracting fossil fuels from public lands and 
waters account for about a quarter of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, according 
to the U.S. Geological Survey.

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