In Fall 2021, President Biden’s administration announced an oil and gas lease sale offering more than 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico. This came as a shock and disappointment to environmental activists who have been counting on Biden to keep his pledge to be a climate leader. Instead, he held the country’s largest oil and gas lease sale in U.S. history. With emissions from burning fossil fuels produced on federal lands and waters accounting for about 25% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, this sale would only create an even greater climate disaster.
But the sale was more than an environmental hazard — it was also unlawful, and environmental and Gulf groups took immediate action. Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in the federal court in the District of Columbia on behalf of Friends of the Earth, Healthy Gulf, Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity. And activists committed to protecting the Gulf rallied for months, demanding that the sale be canceled. In fact, over 150,000 Friends of the Earth members took action to prevent new fossil fuel drilling.
Thankfully, the intense pressure brought by Friends of the Earth and over 250 organizations finally led to justice! In late-January 2022, news broke that a federal judge ruled to revoke the unlawful lease sale! The court found that the Department of Interior did not adequately assess the impacts that oil and gas drilling would have on our climate.
With a lease sale offering more than 80 million acres — an area twice the size of Florida — the potential environmental and socio-economic harm was catastrophic. Oil spills would have wiped out endangered species found in the region and expanding drilling in the Gulf would only exacerbate systemic racism and entrenched harm to local, frontline communities who have been living with dirty air and water for generations. The Gulf of Mexico has a long, fraught history of being the country’s “sacrifice zone” for offshore drilling. Toxic air and water pollution created by the industry has disproportionately harmed generations of Black, Brown, Indigenous and low-wealth communities living throughout the region. And species like the Bryde’s and Rice’s whales — some of the most endangered whales on the planet — rely on a healthy Gulf ecosystem to stay alive.
While the environmental community celebrates this win, we know our work to prevent new offshore oil and gas drilling is not over. Despite promising to be a climate leader, Biden approved 34% more oil and gas permits in his first year than Donald Trump did in his first year. That’s why we will continue pressuring the administration to keep its pledge to reduce carbon emissions by at least 50% by the year 2030. Together we can ensure that our President will protect our planet and our communities and Keep It In The Ground!