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Environmental groups sue Biden to block 3,500 oil and gas drilling permits

A polar bear sow and two cubs are seen on the Beaufort Sea coast within the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | Reuters

A coalition of environmental groups this week sued the Biden administration in an effort to stop more than 3,500 permit applications from energy companies to drill for oil and gas on federal lands.

The groups argued the administration hasn’t considered the damage that climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions from drilling does to endangered species, and that permit approvals in Wyoming and New Mexico violated federal laws including the Endangered Species Act.

The groups said burning fossil fuels from drilling is heating the planet and damaging imperiled species like Hawaiian songbirds, desert fish, ice seals and polar bears. The administration’s approved permits, they said, will release up to 600 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

The lawsuit is the latest attempt by environmentalists to pressure the administration to halt new drilling permits. Earlier in his term, Biden sought to commit to his campaign promise to suspend new drilling on federal lands, but was thwarted after legal challenges from GOP-led states and the oil industry.

“Fossil fuels are driving the extinction crisis, and the Bureau of Land Management is making things worse by failing to protect these imperiled species,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

The Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and the Western Environmental Law Center filed the lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management in the District Court of Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

An Interior Department spokesman declined to comment on the litigation.

As U.S. energy prices soar, the Biden administration has encouraged companies to increase drilling, arguing they can produce more by using some of the 9,000 unused and available permits. This month, the administration is set auction off drilling leases in states including Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

Oil and gas industry representatives said that multiple rounds of environmental analysis are conducted before an oil and gas permit on public land is issued, and that environmental groups have several opportunities to file suit during various stages of planning.

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, a trade group that represents the oil and gas industry, said the climate groups “will not be satisfied until federal oil and natural gas is shut down completely, yet that option is not supported by law.”

“They’re trying to use the courts to deny Americans energy and drive up prices because they can’t convince Congress to change the law,” Sgamma said in a statement. “Shutting down federal oil and natural gas does nothing to address climate change, but merely shifts the production to private lands or overseas.”

The groups argued that the Bureau of Land Management violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider how approving the permits would impact the environment. They also said officials failed to stop “unnecessary and undue” damage to federal lands as required by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

“The Bureau of Land Management has admitted that continued oil and gas exploitation is a significant cause of the climate crisis, yet the agency continues to recklessly issue thousands of new oil and gas drilling permits,” said Kyle Tisdel, climate and energy program director with the Western Environmental Law Center.

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