Environmental groups sued the Biden administration on Wednesday to block a sale of oil and gas drilling rights off the coast of Alaska that is scheduled for next week.
The legal action, filed in federal court in Alaska, comes as the Interior Department is preparing to offer nearly 1 million acres in the Cook Inlet on Dec. 30.
The sale was among the concessions to the oil and gas sector included in President Joe Biden's climate change law, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
Under the law, the administration is required to hold the sale by Dec. 31. Interior had scrapped the Cook Inlet sale this year before the IRA passed, citing a lack of industry interest. An Interior Department spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The groups suing the administration are Cook Inletkeeper, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Center for Biological Diversity, Kachemak Bay Conservation Society and Natural Resources Defense Council. In the complaint, the groups alleged the sale's environmental review violated federal environmental laws by not adequately considering its impact on climate change as well as consequences for threatened species such as the Cook Inlet beluga whale and humpback whales.
The groups are asking the court to vacate the environmental review and any leases that are executed following the sale.
"Cook Inlet is already experiencing severe effects of climate change, and new oil and gas leasing will only magnify those harms," the complaint said. Cook Inlet stretches 180 miles (290 km) from Anchorage to the Gulf of Alaska.
The federal government has held several oil and gas lease sales in the Cook Inlet since the 1970s, but no production has occurred in federal waters to date, according to the sale's environmental review.
There are currently 14 active federal leases there, all owned by Hilcorp HILCO.UL. Operating oil and gas platforms in the area are all in state waters, but oil production has declined substantially since peaking in the 1970s.
(Reuters - Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Josie Kao)