Judges increasingly require climate analyzes in drilling decisions

WASHINGTON – A judge’s decision this week in invalidate The biggest sale of offshore oil and gas concessions in the country’s history, ...


WASHINGTON – A judge’s decision this week in invalidate The biggest sale of offshore oil and gas concessions in the country’s history, on the grounds that the government had failed to take climate change into account, shows that regulatory decisions that do not take climate change into account are increasingly more vulnerable to legal challenges, analysts said on Friday.

Judge Rudolph Contreras of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled Thursday that the Biden administration acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when it auctioned off more than $80 million. acres in the Gulf of Mexico. The Home Office did not fully analyze the climate effects of burning oil and gas that would be developed from the leases, the judge said.

The decision is one of the few in the past year in which a court has asked the government to conduct a more in-depth study of the effects of climate change before approving fossil fuel development. Analysts said that, cumulatively, the decisions would ensure that future administrations are no longer able to ignore or downplay global warming.

“That wouldn’t have been true 10 years ago for climate analysis,” said Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard University. He said it’s “a big win” that the courts are forcing government agencies to include “a very robust and holistic climate analysis” as part of the decision-making when it comes to whether or not to drill on public lands and waters.

Emissions from fossil fuel extraction on public lands and in federal waters are approximately 25 percent of the country’s greenhouse gases.

Shell, BP, Chevron and Exxon Mobil offered $192 million for the rights to drill on about 1.7 million acres in the area offered by the government in the November 17 lease sale. The leases have not yet been issued.

Judge Contreras said the government relied on an outdated and flawed analysis by the Trump administration, which claimed that not holding the lease sale would lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions because overseas oil companies would increase production to fill a gap in the market.

He called the use of this analysis a “serious failure” and ordered a new study under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, which states that the government must consider ecological damage when deciding whether to allow or not drilling and construction projects.

The judge reached the same conclusion as judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and the District Court for the District of Alaska in cases over the past two years involving lease sales based on a similar analysis.

“This continues to set an established precedent that NEPA requires greenhouse gas analysis,” said Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Foundation. “It continues to show the damage we are causing by allowing federal leasing to continue.”

Keith Hall, director of Louisiana State University’s Center for Energy Law, cautioned that having to show the impacts of climate change doesn’t necessarily mean fossil fuel development will stop.

A future administration could show all the impacts of climate change in a lease sale decision and still legally decide that the economic benefits outweigh the climate dangers.

“An administration more favorable to the fossil fuel industry could still go forward,” Hall said. “Weighing the pros and cons is ultimately a political decision.”

The Biden administration is now in an awkward position to decide whether to appeal the decision.

As a candidate, Mr. Biden promised to stop issuing new leases for drilling on public lands and in federal waters. Shortly after taking office, he signed a decree to suspend the issuance of new leases. But after Republican attorneys general from 13 states sued, a federal judge in Louisiana blocked that order and also ruled that the administration must hold Gulf lease sales that had already been scheduled by the government. Trump administration.

The Biden administration went ahead with the sale in November, despite arguments from environmental activists that the Interior Department could have done more to prevent or reduce the size of the lease sale.

In a statement, Interior Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said the agency is reviewing the decision.

“We have documented serious flaws in the federal oil and gas program,” Ms. Schwartz said. “Especially in the face of the climate crisis, we need to take the time to make important and long overdue programmatic reforms.”

Analysts said they expected the Biden administration to stick with the decision.

“They’re not shedding a lot of tears on this one because it’s a big lease sale made by Trump that they obviously wanted to put on hold,” Mr. Lazarus said.

That opens the question of whether oil companies that have purchased leases, the trade groups that represent them, or Republican states that are continuing the Biden administration’s efforts to block new leases, could appeal.

Mr. Hall said he believed they could.

“The defendants are sufficiently affected to have standing to appeal,” he said.

In a statement, Louisiana Solicitor General Elizabeth Murrill said the state is “exploring potential legal remedies” to the court’s decision.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Judges increasingly require climate analyzes in drilling decisions
Judges increasingly require climate analyzes in drilling decisions
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