Environmental groups sue Biden administration over first onshore oil and gas lease sale

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A coalition of 10 environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit late Tuesday challenging the first onshore oil and gas lease sale held under the Biden administration.

The groups — including the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians — alleged that the lease sale violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Federal Land Policy and Management Act, arguing additional drilling would contribute to climate change. The lawsuit noted that the Biden administration itself has acknowledged the "fundamentally incremental nature of the climate crisis."

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"President Biden came into office promising bold action on climate," Dan Ritzman, director of the Sierra Club's Lands, Water, Wildlife campaign, said in a statement Wednesday. "Moving forward with these lease sales flies in the face of science and any chance for us to meet our climate goals."

"For the sake of our environment and our future, we must transition away from the toxic fossil fuel industry that prioritizes handouts to oil and gas companies over the interests of local communities, wildlife, and conservation efforts," he continued.

Oil wells outside of Williston, North Dakota, on August 24, 2021. The northwest North Dakota oil boom powered Williston to be the fastest-growing “micro” area in the United States between 2010 and 2020.  (Tyler Olson/FOX Business / FOXBusiness)

Jeremy Nichols, the head of WildEarth Guardians' climate and energy program, said the Biden administration is "bending over backward" to appease the fossil fuel industry. He added the administration is undermining its own clean energy ambitions by moving forward with the sale.

In April, the Bureau of Land Management announced it would hold six oil and gas lease sales across eight states this month. The decision to move ahead with the sales came after a federal court issued an injunction in June 2021, ordering the administration to halt its pause on new lease sales which President Joe Biden ordered shortly after taking office.

The sales, which mark the first time the administration has opened up new federal land to drillers, were originally slated to begin earlier this month, but were delayed over environmental protests.

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The groups asked the court to vacate the lease sale and order the Department of the Interior (DOI) to redo its environmental analysis of the leasing authorizations.

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"Federal Defendants’ process for resuming leasing under the Program and approving the challenged Lease Sales is a prime example of the fundamental disconnect between the ongoing climate crisis and Federal Defendants’ management of public lands in a manner which prioritizes fossil fuel exploitation," the lawsuit stated.

"Federal Defendants have made no indication that they intend to meaningfully acknowledge or address this disconnect through a comprehensive programmatic review," the filing continued.

A spokesperson for the DOI declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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