Using an untested legal argument based on the Endangered Species Act, a coalition of environmental groups sued the Biden administration this week for failing to consider the harm to at-risk species from the emissions produced by oil and gas drilling on public lands.
The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and led by the Center for Biological Diversity, argues that oil
burned from a well in Wyoming adds to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is heating the planet. And the impact isn’t restricted to local wildlife, the suit alleges, but the fauna as far flung as polar bears in the Arctic and monk seals in Hawaii.
If the suit succeeds, more than 3,500 drilling permits issued during the Biden administration could be revoked and future permitting could be challenged.
Earlier this year, the Biden administration said it would resume selling leases for new oil and gas
drilling on public lands, but would also raise the federal royalties that companies must pay to drill, the first increase in those fees in more than a century.
The auction of leases to drill on 145,000 acres of public lands in nine states was the first such sale since President Joe Biden took office, but followed months of legal back-and-forth. The approvals, according to the Western Energy Alliance, largely cover oil and gas that had already been explored during the previous administration and don’t go far enough to bring U.S. energy on line.
Biden’s move was in reaction to calls for increasing domestic energy sources after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and post-COVID-19 inflation have sharply driven up energy prices, including gasoline
just as the summer driving season kicked off.
No doubt, the issue has been a challenging one for Biden. He ran for president on a climate-friendly campaign that said he would downplay traditional fossil fuels in favor of solar, wind
hydrogen and other alternative sources that pollute less. Recently, he has urged more oil and gas production to ease near-term market stress.