Judge cancels major US oil and gas exploration sale

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 13: U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras listens during the investiture ceremony for U.S. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden April 13, 2018 at the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC. (Photo by ALEX WONG / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States (AFP) – A judge on Thursday canceled the sale of oil and gas exploration leases of some 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, after environmental groups sued the Biden administration citing major concerns.

Federal District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras declared existing contracts invalid, saying the Department of the Interior did not adequately consider the leases’ impact on climate change when issuing them.

According to the ruling, officials had used outdated analyses to calculate the leases’ effects on the environment and said the government must run a new analysis with current data.

The administration had in August announced its intention to sell the rights to the Gulf exploration, a decision decried by environmental activists and seen as a stumbling block for President Joe Biden’s climate agenda.

A coalition of environmentalist groups sued to prevent the sales.

“We are pleased that the court invalidated Interior’s illegal lease sale,” Brettny Hardy, a lawyer for climate group Earthjustice, which represents the coalition, said in a statement.

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA – NOVEMBER 04: A general view of atmosphere at the Earthjustice L.A. Launch Party at Sunset Towers on November 4, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Earthjustice/AFP (Photo by Joe Scarnici / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

“We simply cannot continue to make investments in the fossil fuel industry to the peril of our communities and increasingly warming planet,” she said.

The Gulf of Mexico, located along the southeastern United States, is one of the most important oil production regions in the country.

Biden last January had announced a moratorium on new gas and oil drilling on federal land pending a review in an effort to make responding to the climate crisis a central part of his presidency.

But a federal judge in Louisiana, nominated by former president Donald Trump, ruled in June that the administration had to get congressional approval for such a move.