A group of environmentalist organizations is suing the Biden administration to vacate more than 3,500 oil and gas drilling permits already approved in two states, even amidst the continuing energy crisis.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in the Washington, D.C., District Court, two wildlife conservation activist groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians, as well as the environmental activist law firm Western Environmental Law Center, sued the Department of the Interior, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Tracy Stone-Manning, seeking to halt the approval of more than 3,500 permits in the Permian Basin in New Mexico and the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, saying the permits violate environmental laws. Those permits constitute nearly all of the permits approved in those two states.
“Climate change is driven primarily by the burning of fossil fuels for energy and transportation activities,” the groups write in the 62-page legal filing, which includes a 192-page appendix listing all of the targeted oil and gas wells.
“In the United States, almost one quarter of all annual emissions are from fossil fuel resources extracted from public lands,” the groups claim. “The drilling of these oil and gas wells will likely emit 490-600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas pollution over the course of their lifespans, equivalent to the annual emissions of between 131-161 coal fired power plants. This is both a nationally and globally significant quantity of emissions.”
In the suit, the groups claim that the permits were approved in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), along with the relevant federal regulations. The groups allege that the BLM failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, in violation of the ESA; failed “to consider or take action to prevent the unnecessary and undue degradation of public lands resulting from ongoing oil and gas permitting,” in violation of the FLPMA; failed “to take a hard look at cumulative [greenhouse gas] emissions and climate impacts” under the NEPA; and failed to “take a hard look at environmental justice” under NEPA, specifically as it relates to the “disproportionate and adverse effects from climate change” felt by communities in Wyoming, New Mexico, and nationwide.
The groups are seeking an injunction that would vacate the targeted leases. Those leases would amount to nearly all the leases approved in those two states since Joe Biden took office. According to data from the BLM website, more than 3,800 permits were approved in Wyoming and New Mexico between January 21, 2021, and May 31, 2022. Those leases also constitute a large share of the permits issued nationwide in that time.
The suit comes even as the Biden administration itself continues to undermine new oil and gas leasing and drilling. In November, the Interior Department released a report recommending BLM crack down on the lands available for new drilling leases, and imposing higher costs on oil companies. Then in May, the Department canceled a massive lease sale of more than 1 million acres in the Cook Inlet and Alaska, and two other leases in the Gulf of Mexico. Separately, a group of Republican Senators, led by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, sent a letter to the Department of Commerce demanding the National Marine Fisheries Service put an end to delays in advancing new permits.