Gulf of Mexico
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File

GOM - D.C. Circuit may ax Interior offshore leases on NEPA grounds

A federal appeals court yesterday appeared ready to strike down an environmental review underpinning two 2018 Gulf of Mexico lease sales.

A federal appeals court yesterday appeared ready to strike down an environmental review underpinning two 2018 Gulf of Mexico lease sales.

During oral arguments yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit considered a request by green groups that the court scrap the agency’s National Environmental Policy Act review — and therefore the leases — instead of issuing a remand order allowing the Interior Department to retool its analysis.

Although the courts have done it before, remanding NEPA cases without vacating the federal actions the environmental analyses support is "pretty weak sauce," said Judge Robert Wilkins.

"This isn’t some ancillary issue," the judge said to an attorney for Interior. "This goes to the heart of the decision of whether you should move forward."

NEPA requires federal agencies to fully consider the environmental impact of proposed actions before making final decisions. Although federal courts have often faulted agencies for falling short of NEPA’s requirements, they have rarely used the statute to halt projects.

The Gulf Restoration Network, along with the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity, had challenged Interior’s analysis of the 2018 lease sales for failing to address concerns about enforcement of safety regulations to prevent a catastrophic spill from offshore oil and gas development.

The environmental challengers alleged that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is within Interior, had not addressed in the NEPA review concerns detailed in a 2017 Government Accountability Office report about a lack of government enforcement of offshore safety measures.

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