The Biden administration will not challenge a federal court ruling that it did not sufficiently consider climate change when it auctioned off 1.7 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico last year, accepting a decision that invalidated the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in the nation’s history.
In a document filed Monday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, lawyers for the government said they would not appeal the district court’s ruling canceling the lease sale. But they left open the possibility that the leases could still be issued if the decision to throw out the sale’s results is ultimately overturned. The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s largest trade group, has challenged the ruling.
The government’s position is not especially surprising. The Interior Department’s environmental analysis justifying the auction was completed under the Trump administration and Biden officials actually did not want to hold the lease sale. Shortly after taking office, President Biden suspended new oil and gas drilling on lands and waters owned by the federal government. But after a Louisiana judge struck down the moratorium last summer, administration officials said they were forced to go through with the sale in November.
Although the administration offered up to 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for drilling leases, the Interior Department ultimately sold a fraction of that amount. The sale netted nearly $192 million and ranked as the most profitable offshore auction since March 2019.
The federal judge’s ruling invalidating the results of the sale means Interior has to redo its environmental analysis so that it fully accounts for the effects of greenhouse gas emissions associated with future oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Then the administration must decide whether to hold a new auction.
However, in its filing, the administration argued that it has run out of time to complete these steps. The government’s five-year offshore drilling plan expires at the end of June, and it’s unlikely that a replacement will be in place by then.
“To be sure, Interior may decide to hold lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico that put up for sale the same blocks offered in the November 17, 2021, sale,” the document states. “But that possibility is pre-decisional and speculative at this time, as there will not be a new leasing program in place after June 30 until Interior adopts a new five year program.”