A federal judge in Washington, D.C., is allowing Louisiana to intervene in a lawsuit challenging an upcoming drilling lease auction, giving the staunch proponent of the federal oil and gas leasing program another chance to defend it in court.
Environmental advocates including Friends of the Earth filed the lawsuit last month, after the Biden administration announced its plan to comply with a court order requiring it to resume lease auctions. U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss on Wednesday authorized Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry to join the case as a defendant alongside the Department of the Interior (DOI).
Friends of the Earth spokesperson Brittany Miller declined to comment. It is represented by lawyers at Earthjustice. DOI spokesperson Tyler Cherry also declined to comment.
Landry spokesperson Cory Dennis said the AG's office was pleased with the ruling. "Joe Biden's unlawful attempt to halt these sales only punishes hard-working Americans with higher gasoline and electric bills, and forces the Nation to rely on foreign energy," he said.
Friends of the Earth and its co-plaintiffs sued on Aug. 31 to block the federal government from holding a fall lease sale that would offer almost all available, unleased blocks in a more than 90-million-acre area in the Gulf of Mexico. The lawsuit claims the planned sale violates the National Environmental Policy Act because its authorization relies on a flawed and outdated analysis of its environmental impacts.
Louisiana moved last week to enter the case, arguing in a brief that a win by the environmentalists would "contradict" a June 15 preliminary injunction in another case ordering the resumption of federal drilling auctions. The injunction remains in effect pending the final resolution of that lawsuit in Lake Charles, Louisiana, federal court, which was brought by Louisiana and 12 other states over Biden's freeze on new drilling auctions, or pending orders from higher courts. The administration has appealed.
Friends of the Earth opposed Louisiana's proposed intervention in the D.C. case. But Moss said he agreed to the state's request to join the case because he harbored sufficient doubts that the state's interests would be adequately represented by the federal government.
In the Lake Charles case, Louisiana and its co-plaintiffs allege the administration's leasing pause violated the Mineral Leasing Act that requires quarterly lease sales.
Louisiana is a major hub for offshore oil and gas production.
The Biden administration had paused the government's leasing auctions in January pending its review of the program.
The administration's decision was part of a sweeping plan to rein in fossil-fuel extraction and combat the effects of climate change.