NEW ORLEANS — The Biden administration's plan to protect an endangered species of whale by scaling back an auction of oil and gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico is being challenged by the oil industry, even as environmentalists go to court to stop the lease sale altogether.
The conflicting federal lawsuits, one filed Thursday in Louisiana by oil interests, the other announced Friday in Washington by the organization Earthjustice, focus on a planned sale of oil and gas leases set for Sept. 27 in New Orleans.
As originally proposed in March, the sale was to cover more than 73 million acres. That area was reduced to 67 million acres this week when the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced final plans for the sale.
The revision, which also includes new speed limits and requirements for personnel on industry vessels, dovetails with measures announced by the administration on Monday to protect the endangered Rice's whale in the Gulf. The adoption of those measures is part of an agreement the administration reached last month with environmentalists in efforts to settle a whale-protection lawsuit filed in federal court in Maryland.
Chevron, the American Petroleum Institute and the state of Louisiana sued in a federal court in southwestern Louisiana Thursday night. They seek to reverse the cut in acreage and block the inclusion of the whale-protecting measures in the lease sale provisions.
Their lawsuit claims the administration's actions violate provisions of a 2022 measure, labeled the Inflation Reduction Act, that provided broad incentives for clean energy, along with creating new drilling opportunities in the Gulf. They also said the changes after the initial lease sale was proposed in March violate federal law because they were adopted arbitrarily, without sufficient explanation of why they are needed.
While the industry seeks to keep the lease sale on schedule for Sept. 27 in its lawsuit, Earthjustice and several other environmental organizations seek to halt it.
In a news release, the organizations say the lease sale violates the National Environmental Policy. They say the administration failed to account for health threats to Gulf Coast communities near oil refineries and didn't adequately the effects of new fossil fuel development on the climate.
“Once again, the Biden Administration has fallen short of the federal law by neglecting to consider the impact of this massive oil sale on Gulf communities and the climate,” Earthjustice attorney George Torgun said in an emailed statement.