Environmental Groups File FOIA Request Over Interior Secretary’s Illegal Sale of Public Waters to Oil and Gas Industry

Legal Memo Proves Biden Administration Knew It Wasn’t Legally Forced to Conduct Sale Before Claiming It Was

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Climate and Energy

Washington, D.C. — Environmental organizations Food & Water Watch and the Action Center on Race and the Economy, along with youth advocacy groups Earth Uprising and One Up Action, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request today seeking records related to the recent leasing of more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas extraction. 

The FOIA request was submitted to the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), and seeks any and all communications related to the lease sale between Interior Secretary Haaland, DOI and BOEM officials, White House officials including John Kerry, Gina McCarthy, Ron Klain, David Hayes, members of Congress and their staff including Senators Manchin and Sinema, and the oil and gas industry.

Meanwhile, a newly uncovered memo indicates that the Biden administration was presented with a legal analysis confirming that it was not required to go ahead with the lease sale, just weeks before it claimed it was legally compelled to conduct the sale quickly. 

The memorandum of opposition filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana on August 24, 2021, the administration itself acknowledged that the court did not compel the DOI on a specific timing to resume lease sales (see page 11 of the memo here). Yet the DOI announced it would resume Lease Sale 257 a week later despite clear violations of the National Environmental Protection Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Both federal laws authorize the Interior Secretary to only move forward with lease sales that are in accordance with environmental safeguards and in a manner that will not cause harm to life or the environment.

“This lease sale will deepen the climate crisis and completely undermine the country’s credibility as a global climate leader. Moreover, allowing new oil and gas drilling on federal lands and waters constitutes a blatant disregard for Biden’s repeated campaign pledges to halt this foolish activity. We know this action has already disillusioned many Democratic voters who were counting on serious climate action from the Biden administration. What we don’t know is why the administration went ahead with this sale without the required environmental review when it clearly knew it wasn’t compelled to do so,” said Thomas Meyer, National Organizing Manager at Food & Water Watch.

Early in his administration, President Biden issued an executive order that paused new leasing of federal lands and waters for oil and gas development to complete a comprehensive review of the impacts of offshore drilling on climate change. After a preliminary U.S. District Court decision struck down Executive Order 14008, the administration quickly backed down, claiming that its hands were tied by the court, despite filing legal briefs in ongoing litigation arguing the contrary. However, the administration has simultaneously acknowledged that it has many other legal mechanisms to prohibit new oil and gas leasing aside from the one the District Court addressed. 

Today, youth climate leaders from Earth Uprising, Grounded, and One Up Action who attended COP26 also submitted a letter to Secretary Haaland urging her to reject the bids from the illegal sale of public waters in the Gulf of Mexico to ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and other major polluters. The full letter can be read here.

“The Biden Administration’s official position is that they were forced to conduct this sale by the court. But we’ve done our homework and we know that is not true. If the court did not compel the administration to sell our public waters to the very companies responsible for the climate crisis and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, then what did?” said Kevin Patel, Founder and Executive Director of One Up Action.

Public opposition to the Gulf lease sale is mounting. Over 100,000 petition signatures have been gathered and over one thousand calls were made to the DOI last week. Celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo have joined environmental groups in a social media campaign to #StopTheSale. And a lawsuit filed by EarthJustice on behalf of Healthy Gulf, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and the Center for Biological Diversity to compel Interior Secretary Deb Halaand and the DOI to comply with NEPA will be heard in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia this Thursday, December 16.

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]