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Appeals court says Trump-era lease illegal; sends feds back to drawing board

Administration easing offshore oil and gas drilling rules
Posted at 3:21 PM, Aug 31, 2022

A federal appeals court has ruled that former President Donald Trump’s administration unlawfully auctioned off large areas of the Gulf of Mexico to oil companies during two lease sales in 2018, our media partners at The Advocate report.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decided on Tuesday that federal regulators failed to properly consider the environmental impacts of oil production on the lease areas, which cover about 150 million acres in the Gulf, the newspaper reports.

The ruling doesn’t halt oil production in the contested areas, but it does send the lease sales back to the U.S. Interior Department for reconsideration and possible mitigation measures and limits on drilling. It’s unclear how long that process will take, giving the oil companies months or years to continue operating as they have since they acquired their leases, The Advocate reports.

Nonetheless, environmental groups are claiming victory, the newspaper reports.

“The federal government’s been allowing more leasing and more drilling without considering the risks from oil spills or to our climate,” said Kristen Monsell, a litigation director for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of four environmental groups that challenged the auctions. “Now the Interior Department will have to go back to the drawing board and do a more robust analysis of the risks.”

According to The Advocate, the groups' lawsuit asserted that the 2018 sales relied on faulty evaluations that wrongly presumed that federal regulators were adequately enforcing safety and environmental regulations. The lawsuit stressed that inadequate regulation contributed to BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in 2010 and increases the risk of similar catastrophic spills.

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