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Challenging the Biden Administration’s Approval of Drilling Permits for Failing to Protect Climate-Imperiled Wildlife, Public Lands

Center for Biological Diversity & WildEarth Guardians v. U.S. Department of Interior
Pending, filed
Case No.
Date Filed
June 15, 2022
State, Venue
District of Columbia, District of Columbia Federal District Court
Kyle Tisdel, Ally Beasley, and Tannis Fox (Western Environmental Law Center), Jason Rylander (Center for Biological Diversity), Daniel Timmons
Guardians and allies have sued the Bureau of Land Management for issuing more than 3,500 oil and gas drilling permits in New Mexico and Wyoming during the first 16 months of the Biden administration in violation of the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

These approved oil and gas wells will result in approximately 490 million to 600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions over their operational lives. That pollution will worsen the climate crisis, damage ecosystems across the United States, and harm more than 150 climate-imperiled species, including Hawaiian songbirds, polar bears and coral reefs. Such climate harm also results in the unnecessary and undue degradation of public lands.

The Endangered Species Act requires all federal agencies to ensure their activities do not jeopardize the existence of threatened and endangered species. Agencies must use the best available science to assess the impacts and harms — including indirect harm from pollution — caused by their activities. But the BLM has never acknowledged that emissions from oil and gas extraction on public lands and waters could harm climate-imperiled species.

In January 2021 President Biden signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to follow the best available science in developing policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Based on an enormous international body of research, scientists have warned that more than 1 million species will go extinct in the coming decades because of climate change and other causes.

The lawsuit also challenges these permit approvals for numerous violations of the National Environmental Policy Act. NEPA requires all federal agencies take a hard look at the consequences of their actions, including the cumulative impacts of fossil fuel emissions. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act obligates the BLM to take action to prevent the unnecessary and undue degradation of public lands, including from the climate-related impacts that the BLM admits are occurring from ongoing oil and gas permitting.

Virtually all decisions to approve oil and gas drilling permits are made without any meaningful opportunity for public engagement. Instead, these rubber-stamp approvals rely on prior decisions at the oil and gas leasing and planning stages, which themselves can be woefully out of date and often fail to allow for meaningful public participation.

While the Bureau of Land Management has begun to provide estimates of emissions from drilling, it has never made any meaningful attempt to assess how these emissions are worsening the climate crisis, damaging the lands the agency manages, or hurting people and communities and worsening environmental inequities and injustices.

“The Biden administration is literally drilling away the climate,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “This lawsuit is about enforcing the reality that more oil and gas extraction only stands to fuel the climate crisis, contrary to the promises of President Biden.”