LAKE CHARLES, La.— Conservation groups moved today to intervene in a lawsuit defending the Biden administration’s decision to pause new federal oil and gas leasing while it reviews the government leasing program.
Earthjustice, Healthy Gulf, Center for Biological Diversity, Cook Inletkeeper, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Earth, Oceana, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed the motion in response to a lawsuit in Louisiana by 13 states that seeks to end the pause and force the government to immediately offer federal lands and waters for lease.
“It’s time to end the federal fossil fuel leasing program. We can’t let Big Oil continue to exploit our federal lands and oceans as it pollutes communities and drives climate change,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We support the Biden administration’s current review, which should show that we need to stop leasing and start phasing out offshore drilling and fracking.”
This motion marks the third intervention in defense of the administration’s leasing pause after a diverse coalition of stakeholders and a coalition of businesses each filed separate motions last week.
“Big Oil and their politician friends are once again screaming the sky is falling over this leasing pause,” said Chris Eaton, oceans attorney at Earthjustice. “But industry is using less than 20% of the 12 million acres they already have locked up in the Gulf of Mexico for offshore drilling. This isn’t a jobs issue, it’s about handing over our public lands and waters to industry. The Biden administration is one hundred percent within their legal authority to pause leasing while they undertake an overdue and necessary review of the current leasing program.”
“There has never been a truly comprehensive review of the offshore leasing program in the Gulf of Mexico from point of lease to point of refining — a true accounting for all of the negative environmental and human health impacts of the industry cradle to grave,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director at Healthy Gulf. “We believe that the current pause in leasing is needed to allow such a review. This pause will not stop oil and gas development in the near future because the industry still has an extraordinary amount of existing leases it has yet to develop.”
“The oil and gas leasing program on public lands and offshore has been deeply broken since its inception; we fully support the Biden administration’s pause on new leasing until a full analysis is complete,” said Eric Huber, managing attorney at Sierra Club. “Excessive fossil fuel leasing on lands and waters is damaging millions of acres of nature, creates a quarter of our domestic greenhouse gas emissions, and contributes deeply to the climate crisis. It is time to truly understand the weight of these impacts on communities and the environment, and ultimately phase out this program once and for all.”
“Fossil fuel-driven climate change is wreaking havoc on the lives and livelihoods of all Americans, and the leasing pause represents a critical and overdue reckoning,” said Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana. “The impacts of dirty and dangerous offshore drilling are clear from disasters like BP’s Deepwater Horizon blowout. To avert even worse impacts from climate change, we must accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy like offshore wind. The industry has stockpiled offshore oil and gas leases, which continue unchecked. It is no longer in the public interest to continue down this path. The leasing pause is prudent and timely, and we owe this serious evaluation to our kids, grandchildren and all future generations.”
“In the singular drive for profits, oil corporations want to expand toxic drilling and dumping in the frontier waters of Alaska’s Cook Inlet,” said Bob Shavelson, advocacy director for Cook Inletkeeper. “Last year federal managers closed the venerable Pacific cod fishery in these very same waters, and they cited climate change as the culprit for low population numbers. Cook Inlet boasts world-class renewable energy assets — including tidal, geothermal and wind — and we need to protect Alaska fisheries and the countless families they support with a modern approach to energy development.”
“Offshore drilling lines the pockets of few at the expense of many,” said Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “Offshore oil development in the Gulf of Mexico has already decimated over a dozen whale and dolphin species and countless imperiled marine species, including sea turtles, polar bears and sea otters. We fully support the Biden administration’s decision to pause and study the leasing program before allowing more corporations to endanger marine species, fisheries and coastal communities in pursuit of extreme oil.”
“Instead of working with Interior on this review to help ensure a just and equitable transition for their communities away from dependence on climate-destroying fossil fuels, these states have run straight to the courtroom,” said Ben Tettlebaum, senior staff attorney at The Wilderness Society. “We will defend this lawful pause on leasing and ensure public lands and offshore waters benefit all of us.”
“The Biden administration’s pause on new leasing is a sensible approach that recognizes the urgency of transitioning to a clean energy economy and protecting vulnerable communities,” said Irene Guttierez, senior attorney for the Nature program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Department of the Interior — not the fossil fuel industry — has the right to determine when and whether to issue offshore oil and gas leases. We are in a climate and biodiversity crisis, and those decisions are more critical now than ever.”
“Big Oil has spent decades harming the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding communities, extracting corporate profit at the expense of people and our climate,” said Hallie Templeton, deputy legal director for Friends of the Earth. “We fully support President Biden’s pause on oil and gas leasing, a commendable first step by the administration. For too long fossil fuel companies have controlled the fate of the Gulf in reckless pursuit of money. This leasing pause wrestles that control away from Big Oil and says to the world that people and the planet come before corporate profits.”
On January 27, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order on tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad, to help align the management of America’s public lands and waters with the nation’s climate, conservation, and clean energy goals. The executive order directs the Secretary of the Interior, “[t]o the extent consistent with applicable law,” to pause new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters “pending completion of a comprehensive review and reconsideration of Federal oil and gas permitting and leasing practices in light of the Secretary of the Interior’s broad stewardship responsibilities over the public lands and in offshore waters, including potential climate and other impacts.”
The pause provides a chance for the Department of the Interior to ensure the federal oil and gas program serves the public interest and restores balance on America’s public lands to benefit current and future generations.