A judge just slammed Biden’s plans for oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico
The administration’s environmental analysis amounted to a “serious failing” and was made in “grave error,” the court said.
One of the wins on climate change under the Biden administration is actually a loss. Last week, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. blocked the sale of oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico, citing the current administration’s failure to properly consider how it would impact the ongoing climate crisis.
U.S. district court judge Rudolph Contreras found that federal agencies including the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management half-assed its environmental analysis, which was originally completed under the Trump administration. That analysis bumbled its way into favoring the sales because, according to their math, the climate impacts would be worse if the land was left undrilled. According to their reasoning, failing to sell the plots would result in other countries with worse environmental standards increasing their production and generating more greenhouse gases.
Shockingly, that didn’t fly with the judge. In his opinion, Contreras didn’t pull any punches. He wrote that the environmental analysis amounted to a “serious failing” and was made in “grave error.” The court orders that the leases be canceled and the Department of Interior redo the analysis, this time taking into account how many new emissions new drilling projects would produce.
The court’s decision wipes out 1.7 million acres worth of sold plots, which had netted the U.S. $192 million — the most profitable offshore auction held by the government since 2019, according to the Washington Post. Those leases had gone to Big Oil staples including Exxon, Chevron, and BP — last seen in the Gulf of Mexico causing irreparable harm with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which poured 210 million gallons of oil into the sea as a result of the company’s failure to implement even basic safety practices.
By blocking the sale — at least for now — Judge Contreras did the Biden administration a major favor, saving it from scoring an own goal on its pledges to address climate change. The plots were part of an oil lease auction that the Biden administration held back in November, days after the President went to the United Nations Climate Conference and promised to lead in the global effort to combat climate change. It was the largest oil lease auction in history, though it ended up selling off significantly fewer plots than were actually available.
Biden’s team has claimed that it did not want to hold the auction, but it was legally compelled to do so. A federal judge in Louisiana blocked an executive order signed by Biden that placed a pause on new oil permits, and the administration argued that if it didn’t sell the plots, it could be held in contempt. The Justice Department apparently does not agree with that assessment, according to a memo from the agency obtained by The Guardian in which the agency says there’s nothing requiring Biden to go forward with the sale. And yet that’s exactly what the administration did.
You’d hope that Biden is treating this loss in court as a victory for the planet and intends to make sure that these leases and future ones are not sold or exploited. Then you remember that the Biden administration has issued more new gas and oil leases in its first year than Trump did and you start to wonder just how serious these people are about climate change.