Eco activists sue to stop US oil and gas lease sales

Max Keating, DCNF

Environmental groups sued the Interior Department Tuesday to challenge the first oil and gas lease sale on public lands during the Biden administration.

A coalition of environmental groups led by Dakota Resource Council filed a lawsuit in in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that the sales violate the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which requires that the Interior Department prevent “unnecessary or undue degradation” of public lands.

The scheduled lease sales represent roughly 144,000 acres and began Wednesday with acreage in Wyoming, with additional sales to follow in Montana, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Nevada and Colorado, reported E&E News.

“Overwhelming scientific evidence shows us that burning fossil fuels from existing leases on federal lands is incompatible with a livable climate,” Melissa Hornbein, Western Environmental Law Center senior attorney, said in a statement.

Biden issued an executive order in January 2021 suspending new oil and gas lease sales, a decision over which Republican lawmakers and energy industry groups have frequently expressed their frustration. No lease sales had been held since Biden took office.

“President Biden remains absolutely committed to not moving forward with additional drilling on public lands,” White House climate czar Gina McCarthy told MSNBC in April.

 

In June 2021, federal courts ruled that the administration had to halt its ban on lease sales, forcing Biden’s Bureau of Land Management to begrudgingly open up public land to drilling. The 144,000 acres represent 80% less than the oil and gas industry had proposed for lease, according to E&E News, and the Bureau of Land Management raised its royalty rate to 18.75% for the sale from the 12.5% it has charged in the past.

The sales were scheduled for earlier this month, but delayed due to environmental protests, according to Fox Business.

The Department of the Interior did not immediately respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment.

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