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.
The issuance of new drilling permits would require further steps under federal laws, the memo states, adding that “the court’s order does not compel the agency to act in contravention of these other authorities”.
The memo’s language was first referenced by The Daily Poster.
Just a month after arguing that it was not required to hold the sale, however, the department of interior’s bureau of ocean energy management (BOEM) announced it would auction off an area of the gulf that is two times the size of Florida to oil and gas companies.
The expanse of the gulf put up for auction contains around 1.12bn barrels of oil and 4.2tn cubic ft of gas, with the leases locking in years – and potentially decades – of planet-heating emissions. It comes at a time when the International Energy Agency has said no new fossil fuel projects can be established after this year if the world is to avoid catastrophic heatwaves, flooding and other disastrous impacts from runaway climate change.
“The administration has been misleading on this, to put it mildly. It’s very disappointing,” said Thomas Meyer, national organizing manager of Food and Water Watch. “They didn’t have to hold this sale and they didn’t have to hold it on this timeline.