Biden rubberstamped Trump-era oil and gas leases in New Mexico's Permian Basin - lawsuit

The sun is seen behind a crude oil pump jack in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, U.S., November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Angus Mordant
  • The Dept of the Interior has approved lease sales on 6,000 acres without adequate review, green groups say
  • The original sales were rushed through the final days of the Trump administration, lawsuit says

(Reuters) - The Biden administration rubberstamped approvals for oil and gas leasing in New Mexico's Permian Basin that would raise greenhouse gas emissions despite the president's promise to focus on curbing climate change, a new lawsuit filed in federal court claims.

Conservation groups including the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians and New Mexico residents sued the Interior Department Monday in New Mexico federal court, claiming the Biden administration backed Trump-era oil and gas lease sales on nearly 6,000 acres of land, despite those sales being rushed through during Trump's final days without adequate environmental reviews. The same groups sued the administration over drilling permits in New Mexico and Wyoming in June.

President Joe Biden temporarily paused all new oil and gas leases in January 2021, just days after the New Mexico sales were held, as part of a sweeping effort to combat the effects of climate change. The government then approved the New Mexico sales in May 2021, while rejecting other last-minute Trump administration sales including in the Alaska wildlife refuge.

The suit claims the government failed to conduct a thorough environmental review of the proposed lease sales, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other laws, and in so doing put the public’s health at risk.

“Oil and gas companies are extracting record profits while outsourcing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions to the public,” said Rose Rushing, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center.

The Biden administration’s pause on new lease sales sparked considerable controversy and legal challenges, leading to contrasting rulings on the legality of the measure from federal judges in Louisiana and Wyoming last year.

Both of those disputes predated last year’s passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which requires some oil and gas leasing be offered if federal rights of way are offered for renewable energy projects.

The Interior Department declined to comment Wednesday.

The case is Citizens Caring for the Future et al. v. Deb Haaland et al., United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, case No. 2:23-cv-00060.

For the conservation groups: Rose Rushing and Kyle Tisdel of Western Environmental Law Center, and Katherine Merlin of WildEarth Guardians.

For the government: Not immediately available

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