Groups Appeal Order to Remove Protections for Endangered Gulf Whale

Environmental Groups Appeal Court Order to Remove Protections for Endangered Whale from Gulf Lease Sale

Emergency order seeks to reinstate protections before upcoming, massive offshore oil and gas sale

Lake Charles, La. — Today, environmental groups appealed a court order from the Western District of Louisiana granting a preliminary injunction request by the American Petroleum Institute, Chevron, Shell, and the State of Louisiana to remove protections for the critically endangered Rice’s whale included in Lease Sale 261.

The Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and Turtle Island Restoration Network were granted intervention in the case to defend these protections. The groups, represented by Earthjustice, have appealed the ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and will seek an emergency stay of the order.

The Interior Department announced in August that the offshore oil and gas sale would be held on September 27 and include 67.3 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for auction. Interior determined that the sale would exclude about 6 million acres of important habitat for the Rice’s whale and attached a stipulation that restricts vessel speeds and transit to protect the whale from deadly vessel strikes — the result of a recent interim agreement that Earthjustice, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Turtle Island Restoration Network, and the federal government reached in the U.S. District Court in Maryland.

However, the Louisiana district court incorrectly determined that Interior had not provided adequate notice of these provisions, despite the fact that several parties — including the Center — had specifically commented on the need for additional protections for the Rice’s whale. The district court also found that Interior had failed to justify the need for these basic measures to prevent the extinction of one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world. 

“These baseline protections for the Rice’s whale are quite literally the least we could be doing to save the species from extinction,” said Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda. “Meanwhile, the government is still enabling the oil industry to bid on 67 million acres of the Gulf. These oil companies are looking at the full glass after one sip and calling it empty.”

“The oil and gas industry’s greed is astounding, and I’m heartbroken that oil executives won’t make even minor accommodations to protect a whale from going extinct,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The federal government is offering oil and gas companies more than 67 million additional acres of public waters for drilling, and it’s still not enough to satisfy Big Oil. The Gulf doesn’t belong to the industry. It belongs to the people and wildlife living there, and it’s time to start saying no to harmful drilling activities.”

“The federal government, and the industry, have a fundamental legal duty to protect endangered species,” said Sierra Club Senior Attorney Devorah Ancel. “The oil and gas industry’s shameless quest to remove critical protections for a whale that is on the brink of extinction because of oil and gas development is quite simply, unconscionable.”

“Once again, big oil wins and the marine environment suffers,” said Director of Oceans Joanie Steinhaus at Turtle Island Restoration Network. “The Rice’s whale is a species that is on the verge of extinction and this ruling takes away the minimum protection for this species. The Gulf of Mexico does not belong to the oil industry, it belongs to the people – and the federal government needs to step up and protect it.”

“The protections impacted by yesterday’s injunction are not only commonsense, but imperative for the continued existence of the Rice’s whale,” said Hallie Templeton, Legal Director for Friends of the Earth. “It is our hope and intention to ensure that the lower court’s ruling does not have a lasting impact on this imperiled species. The Rice’s whale is on the brink of extinction due to the very activities that the injunction greenlights. We must stop giving Big Oil carte blanche for business-as-usual activities.”

Communications contact: Brittany Miller, [email protected], (202) 22-0746

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