For Immediate Release, July 19, 2019

Contact:

Kristen Monsell, Center for Biological Diversity, (914) 806-3467, kmonsell@biologicaldiversity.org
Chris Eaton, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ceaton@earthjustice.org
Gabby Brown, Sierra Club, (202) 495-3051, gabby.brown@sierraclub.org

Lawsuit Forces Trump Administration to Consider Oil Drilling’s Harm to Endangered Wildlife in Gulf of Mexico

TAMPA, Fla.— Prompted by a lawsuit filed by three conservation groups, the Trump administration has finally agreed to complete a legally required consultation about the harm offshore oil drilling does to whales and other threatened and endangered wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico.

The 2018 lawsuit — filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Healthy Gulf (f.k.a. Gulf Restoration Network) and the Sierra Club in federal district court in Florida — challenged the Trump administration’s failure to complete a biological opinion after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

“We’ve ensured the Trump administration can’t keep turning a blind eye to offshore drilling’s harms to the Gulf’s most imperiled species,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans program legal director at the Center. “Our government has a moral and legal obligation to carefully study the risks to rare whales, sea turtles and other animals before allowing more dirty, dangerous offshore drilling and fracking.”

The Endangered Species Act requires the National Marine Fisheries Service to complete a consultation with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on oil and gas operations that could impact threatened and endangered species. The last time the agency completed a biological opinion was in 2007, three years before Deepwater Horizon.

That spill devastated the Gulf ecosystem and its wildlife and invalidated many assumptions in the 2007 biological opinion. Agencies began to reinitiate the consultation process following the spill in 2010, but it was never completed by the Trump administration, which began ramping up offshore drilling operations in the Gulf and rolling back environmental and safety regulations.

“This administration has been acting as if the Deepwater Horizon disaster had no effect on the Gulf,” said Chris Eaton, attorney with Earthjustice. “We hope this long-overdue assessment will inject some accurate facts and science into the government’s offshore drilling decisions.”

Yesterday’s agreement filed with the court requires the National Marine Fisheries Service to issue a biological opinion by Nov. 5, 2019. A new biological opinion likely will result in additional safeguards to prevent further harm to sea turtles, whales, and other threatened and endangered species from oil and gas operations in the Gulf.

“The Gulf has been treated as a sacrifice zone for corporate polluters for far too long,” said Sierra Club Senior Attorney Devorah Ancel. “The Trump administration can no longer ignore the serious threat their offshore drilling plans pose to coastal ecosystems.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, Healthy Gulf and the Sierra Club also have other cases pending against the Trump administration for opening up millions of acres of the Gulf of Mexico to offshore drilling. The groups are represented by Earthjustice in those lawsuits as well. The cases are pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.