A federal district court blocked the Biden administration Thursday from removing 6 million acres out of an upcoming oil and gas drilling lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico.
U.S. District Judge James D. Cain Jr. ruled that the Department of the Interior could not move forward with its plan aimed at protecting the endangered Rice's whale.
Cain's preliminary injunction also reverses Biden administration restrictions on boating activity in the area, including new speed limits and requirements for personnel on industry vessels.
On Friday, the administration asked the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to block the order issued Thursday night in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Environmental groups represented by the Earthjustice organization also appealed.
The sale in question was initiated earlier this year and included 73 million acres of offshore tracts available for drilling leases. It garnered immediate interest from oil giants like Chevron and Shell.
However, new boat restrictions implemented by a July agreement between the Biden administration and environmental groups in the federal court in Maryland spawned concerns for the oil industry.
Then, last month, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management shrunk the lease to 67 million acres, citing habitat threats to the region's unique whale — of which under 100 are estimated to remain.
Louisiana, the interested oil giant parties, and the American Petroleum Institute — the country's largest oil industry trade association — sued the administration in response.
"The court observes that plaintiffs have demonstrated substantial potential costs resulting from the challenged provisions," Cain wrote, restoring the lease sale to all 73 million acres.
"While the government defendants largely focus on the acreage withdrawal and dynamics of the sale itself, many of plaintiffs' alleged hardships arise from the vessel restrictions," he added.
Cain ordered the administration to proceed with the sale on Sept. 30. It was originally scheduled to take place on Sept. 27.
While celebrated by the oil and gas industry, environmental advocates expressed concerns about the potential impacts the development would have on the endangered whales.
"The oil and gas industry's greed is astounding, and I'm heartbroken that oil executives won't make even minor accommodations to protect a whale from going extinct," stated Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Luca Cacciatore, a Newsmax general assignment writer, is based in Arlington, Virginia, reporting on news and politics.
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