A federal appeals court in New Orleans gave the Biden administration 37 days to move forward with the sale of oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico, dismissing challenges from environmental groups in a ruling on Tuesday.
The decision comes after a series of legal battles, primarily citing concerns over endangered whale species.
The three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the attempts by environmental groups to block the leases, which had been delayed due to legal challenges related to whale protections.
The pending sale, initially announced in March, faced delays from its original date on Sept. 27, extending to Nov. 8 amid ongoing legal disputes. In late October, the appeals court further postponed the sale pending arguments specifically addressing endangered whale species, scheduled for Nov. 13.
President Joe Biden had temporarily suspended federal drilling auctions early in his term as part of his climate agenda. However, the lease sales were compelled by the Inflation Reduction Act, mandating their occurrence in September.
In August, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) sought to modify the leases, reducing the available area by 6 million acres from the original 73 million acres to 67 million acres.
The changes also included restrictions on vessel speeds and additional requirements for personnel on industry vessels within certain leased areas. These alterations resulted from an agreement reached between federal agencies and environmental groups that sued in 2020, citing insufficient safeguards for whales.
The state of Louisiana, along with industry giants such as the American Petroleum Institute, Chevron, and Shell, filed a lawsuit aiming to reverse the acreage reduction and block the inclusion of whale-protective measures in the lease sale provisions. They argued that these actions by the administration violated the Inflation Reduction Act, which not only incentivized green energy but also promoted new drilling opportunities in the Gulf.
A lower court had ruled in favor of the industry groups, directing the Biden administration to proceed with the sale promptly. The administration and environmental groups both appealed, with the former seeking additional time and the latter advocating for the whale-protection measures.
The appeals court granted the administration a 37-day extension to carry out the sale.
However, the court dismissed the environmental groups' challenge on Tuesday, asserting that they lacked standing in the case as they did not demonstrate a "certainly impending" injury or the likelihood of the court resolving such issues.
Environmental groups expressed disappointment and concern over the ruling, warning of potential consequences for the endangered Rice's whale.
“This disappointing and unjustified ruling could be the death knell for the nearly extinct Rice’s whale,” said George Torgun, an attorney with Earthjustice, in a written statement.
“The oil industry fought tooth and nail to tear up basic measures to save one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world. This could be the difference between doing the bare minimum to save this species, and allowing it to vanish,” he added.
On the other hand, the American Petroleum Institute hailed the decision as a victory, emphasizing the importance of the Gulf of Mexico in maintaining affordable and reliable American energy production.
"Today’s decision creates greater certainty for the essential energy workforce and the entire Gulf Coast economy," Ryan Meyers, the group’s senior vice president and general counsel, said in a written statement.
The Biden administration has declared that it will sell only three offshore oil and gas leases over the next five years as part of its climate agenda.
In a Sept. 29 statement, the Department of the Interior said that between 2024 and 2029, it would engage in "a maximum of three potential oil and gas lease sales” in the Gulf of Mexico region, scheduled for 2025, 2027, and 2029.
The three sales represent “the fewest oil and gas lease sales in history,” the department claims.
Meanwhile, no oil and gas lease sales will happen in the Atlantic, Pacific, or Alaskan waters during this period, according to the statement.
The Epoch Times contacted the Department of the Interior for comment.