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Environmental groups sue Biden administration to block 3,500 oil and gas drilling permits

By Ella Nilsen, CNN

Three environmental law groups have sued the Biden administration in an attempt to block more than 3,500 permit applications from energy companies to drill for oil and gas on public lands.

The environmental groups filed the lawsuit in the District Court of Washington, DC, against the Bureau of Land Management, saying the permit approvals in Wyoming and New Mexico violated several federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act.

Climate advocates have been keen to hold President Joe Biden to his campaign promise to ban all new oil and gas drilling on public land — a promise he has been unable to deliver on. But that promise has also recently become a political punching bag for Republicans as the price of gas has soared to over $5 per gallon amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Citing the severity of the climate crisis, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Western Environmental Law Center and the WildEarth Guardians are trying to stop oil and gas companies drilling new wells on federal lands.

“The federal government’s oil and gas program accounts for almost one-tenth of annual greenhouse gas emissions in the nation,” said Kyle Tisdel, climate and energy program director with Western Environmental Law Center, in a statement. “The Bureau of Land Management has admitted that continued oil and gas exploitation is a significant cause of the climate crisis, yet the agency continues to recklessly issue thousands of new oil and gas drilling permits.”

The groups said in a statement that drilling and burning the fossil fuel from these permits will “damage ecosystems across the United States, and harm more than 150 climate-imperiled species, including Hawaiian songbirds, polar bears and coral reefs.”

“Fossil fuels are driving the extinction crisis, and the Bureau of Land Management is making things worse by failing to protect these imperiled species,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement.

A Department of Interior spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Interior announced in April it would resume onshore oil and gas leases after a federal judge issued an injunction that thwarted President Joe Biden’s efforts in early 2021 to rein in drilling on federal land. Interior announced it would significantly reduce the number of parcels being offered, and make companies pay a higher royalty rate.

Biden himself is increasing pressure on fossil fuel companies to ramp up their capacity. On Wednesday, the president penned letters to seven oil refinery companies, urging them to take “immediate actions to increase the supply of gasoline, diesel, and other refined product.”

The American Petroleum Institute, a top fossil fuel trade group, responded on Wednesday to the letter, saying they “appreciate the opportunity to open increased dialogue with the White House” but that “the administration’s misguided policy agenda shifting away from domestic oil and natural gas has compounded inflationary pressures and added headwinds to companies’ daily efforts to meet growing energy needs while reducing emissions.”

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CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

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