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Lawsuit targets U.S. delay on petition to phase out public lands oil drilling

April 25, 2023
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
#JustTransition, #KeepItInTheGround, #PressStatement
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Conservation groups sued the U.S. Interior Department today for failing to respond to a rulemaking petition to phase out oil and gas extraction on federal public lands.

In January 2022 more than 360 groups petitioned the Biden administration to enact a policy framework to phase out federal oil and gas production to near zero by 2035. Research since the petition was filed shows that developed countries must end oil and gas extraction by 2031 to avoid the harms of warming 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., targets the administration’s failure to respond to portions of the petition on public lands oil and gas production in the lower 48 states.

“Avoiding catastrophic warming requires phasing out oil and gas extraction, and the natural place to start is on public lands that the Interior Department controls,” said Taylor McKinnon at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ve provided the Biden administration with a crystal-clear policy roadmap for reversing its disastrous onslaught of fossil fuel expansion. It’s urgent that Biden officials align the federal oil and gas program with our country’s climate goals and the president’s own campaign promises.”

The lawsuit comes as the administration touts “all-time high” federal oil production amid a cascade of new fossil fuel approvals like the massive Willow project. These projects defy U.N. calls to end new oil and gas development and Biden campaign promises to end new drilling on public land. The administration has failed to propose any policies to align the federal fossil fuel programs with the decline curves necessary to avoid warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“While it’s deeply disappointing that Interior failed to respond to our notice of intent to sue, we hope today’s lawsuit finally injects an urgency into the Biden administration to transition away from dirty energy,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “Our petition makes clear that there is no time to waste. We must rapidly begin phasing down oil and gas production on public lands before our climate reaches the point of no return.”

“For our climate, we need to move beyond fossil fuels as quickly as possible and that has to start with ending oil and gas extraction on public lands,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “Today’s lawsuit is about compelling rational leadership from the Biden administration and enforcing the reality that we can’t frack our way to a safe climate.”

Federal data shows the Biden administration approved 6,430 permits for oil and gas drilling on public lands in its first two years, outpacing the Trump administration. More than half those permits were in the Permian Basin, where per-well emissions of methane pollution are among the highest in the country and where permitting accelerated from 2021 to 2022.

“In the Arctic we are seeing increasingly intense wildfire seasons, warnings to stay inside due to air quality issues. Our sea ice is melting, permafrost that holds carbon unaccounted for that will be released into the atmosphere,” said Siqiñiq Maupin, executive director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic. “With the Willow Project being approved despite massive protest at all levels in this country, we need to transition from oil and gas to clean energy. We should be investing in our future now or face the serious threat to our very existence on this Earth.”

“The Biden administration has blatantly ignored our demands to phase out fossil fuels on public lands,” said Jordan Harmon, policy analyst and legislative advocate at the Indigenous Environmental Network. “If the United States continues to abuse the public lands under its care and management — lands that were coerced from Indigenous peoples in land grabs — then it can no longer be trusted to manage those lands and should begin the process of transferring them back to Indigenous peoples. That would be real environmental justice.”

Protesters rallied in front of the Interior Department this morning in support of the phase-out petition. Thousands of organizations and communities across the United States have called on Biden to halt federal fossil fuel expansion and phase out production.

The Administrative Procedure Act requires federal agencies to initiate rulemaking or provide a substantive response to rulemaking petitions within a reasonable timeframe. Today’s lawsuit alleges that the administration’s failure to respond to the petition constitutes an unreasonable delay given the urgency of the climate crisis.


Avoiding heating the planet beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius requires ending new investment in fossil fuel projects and phasing out production to keep as much as 40% of already developed oil and gas fields in the ground. At the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Biden called climate change “an existential threat to human existence” and pledged to cut U.S. emissions by up to 51% over the next nine years.

Fossil fuel production on public lands causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a nationwide federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate policy proposals in recent years.

Oil, gas and coal extraction uses mines, well pads, gas lines, roads and other infrastructure that destroys habitat for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Oil spills and other harm from offshore drilling have done immense damage to ocean wildlife and coastal communities. Fracking and mining also pollute watersheds and waterways that provide drinking water to millions of people.

Federal fossil fuels that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution; those already leased to industry contain up to 43 billion tons.

Oil and gas protest outside of the Department of Interior headquarters in Washington D.C. Photo by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Other Contact
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2414, tmckinnon@biologicaldiversity.org, Brittany Miller, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0746, bmiller@foe.org