The Biden administration admitted that a court decision did not compel it to lease vast tracts of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling, shortly before claiming it was legally obliged to do so when announcing the sell-off, the Guardian can reveal.
Last month, the US government held the largest-ever auction of oil and gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico’s history, offering up more than 80 million acres of the gulf’s seabed for fossil fuel extraction.
The enormous sale, which took place just four days after crucial UN climate talks in Scotland, represented a spectacular about-turn from Joe Biden’s previous promise to halt offshore drilling and was denounced by outraged environmental groups as a “huge carbon bomb.”
The president’s administration insisted it was obliged to hold the lease sale due to a court ruling in favor of a dozen states that sued to lift a blanket pause placed on new drilling permits by Biden. But a memo filed by the US Department of Justice before the lease sale acknowledges that this judgement does not force the government to auction off drilling rights to the gulf.
“While the order enjoins and restrains (the department of) interior from implementing the pause, it does not compel interior to take the actions specified by plaintiffs, let alone on the urgent timeline specified in plaintiffs’ contempt motion,” wrote government lawyers to the federal court in Louisiana in August.