The U.S. Interior Department and groups including the Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of appeal with the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just a day after U.S. District Judge James Cain said the Biden administration had to include additional acreage.
Cain said the Interior Department must proceed with the lease sale by Sept. 30.
The oil and gas industry welcomed the judge’s decision to restore 6 million acres to the auction after the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management earlier reduced the area available for lease in an effort to protect an endangered whale species. It had sued in August to challenge the Interior Department’s move.
The court’s decision removes “unjustified restrictions on vessel traffic imposed by the Department of the Interior” and “is an important step toward greater certainty for American energy workers,” the American Petroleum Institute, which represents oil and natural gas industry, said in a statement.
Environmental groups had opposed including the additional acres, citing the need for adequate safeguards for the endangered Rice’s whale. The U.S. government says the top threats to the Rice’s whale are energy exploration and development, oil spills and spill response, and vessel strikes.
Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda defended efforts to save the whale from extinction and noted that even with the planned restrictions the government was “still enabling the oil industry to bid on 67 million acres of the Gulf.”
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) had no comment on the ruling.
The administration’s stipulations had removed more than 6 million acres (2.4 million hectares) originally intended to be offered at the auction and required vessel operators maintain a vigilant watch for the whales and abide by speed restrictions in the whale’s habitat.
The restrictions were put in place after environmental groups sued in a separate legal action.
Reporting by Jarret Renshaw, Susan Heavey and Clark Mindock; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Chizu Nomiyama and Timothy Gardner