A federal judge late Thursday blocked offshore drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico that President Joe Biden’s administration conducted last year.
Judge Rudolph Contreras, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, vacated both the approval to hold the sale, spearheaded by the Trump administration, and the sale itself, which took place in November 2021. In a 68-page ruling, the judge returned the sale to the Interior Department for further consideration.
Contreras ruled that the Trump administration did not adequately account for the environmental risks when authorizing the sale and said the Interior Department “arbitrarily” failed to account for foreign energy consumption when predicting the new lease’s effect on greenhouse gas emissions.
Interior Department spokesperson Melissa Schwartz said that the agency would review the ruling, but declined to comment on whether the department would conduct a new study on emissions with the goal of holding another sale in the future.
“We have documented serious deficiencies in the federal oil and gas program,” Schwartz said. “Especially in the face of the climate crisis, we need to take the time to make significant and long overdue programmatic reforms.”
Environmental groups praised the ruling, calling it a win for the climate and people living in the Gulf Coast.
“This is a huge victory for our climate, Rice’s whales and Gulf communities,” said Kristen Monsell, the oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I’m thrilled the court saw through the Biden administration’s horribly reckless decision to hold the largest oil lease sale in U.S. history without carefully studying the risks. New oil leases are fundamentally incompatible with addressing the climate emergency, and they’ll cause more oil spills and harm to wildlife and people in the Gulf.”
Biden has said that the U.S. and the world must move away from fossil fuels to avoid the worst effects of climate change, though his Build Back Better bill, which contained about $550 billion in climate change mitigation measures, fell apart in the Senate late last year.