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Can a Law Protecting Endangered Animals Stop New Oil Drilling?

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Washington — A coalition of environmental groups sued the Byden administration on Wednesday for not considering the harm caused to endangered species from the emissions produced by drilling oil and gas on public land.

Using a new legal debate under the Endangered Species Act, the group said in the atmosphere that oil burned from wells excavated in Wyoming is heating the planet and destroying Florida coral reefs and Arctic polar bears. Hawaiian monk seals claim to increase carbon dioxide.

If the coalition is successful, more than 3,500 drilling permits issued during the Biden administration could be revoked, making future permits much more difficult.

“Unfortunately, science makes it very clear that climate change is a catastrophe for the planet in all respects, including endangered species,” said Brett Hartle, director of government affairs at the Center for Biodiversity. I am.Leading Proceedings It was submitted to the US District Court in the District of Columbia.

“We need to stop approaches like autopilot of fossil fuel leasing on public land,” he said.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry refused to comment on the case.

Oil and gas industry officials said the government had already conducted an environmental analysis for each drilling permit issued, and opponents had multiple opportunities to challenge the decision. Industry insiders said the proceedings were a backdoor effort to reduce fossil fuel development and would hurt the economy.

“They won’t be happy until the federal oil and gas are completely shut down, but that option isn’t supported by law,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, which represents oil and gas companies. rice field.

“They can’t convince Congress to change the law, so they’re denying American energy and trying to use courts to push prices up,” she said. “The closure of federal oil and natural gas does not address climate change, it only shifts production to private land or abroad.”

The International Energy Agency, the world’s leading energy agency, must stop developing new oil and gas fields and building new coal-fired power plants in order for global warming to remain relatively safe. I said it wouldn’t be.

The lawsuit is the latest skirmish by environmentalists who want to keep fossil fuels “underground” and force President Biden to fulfill his campaign promise to end new oil and gas drilling leases. Biden moved to suspend new leases when he took office, but Republican-led state and oil industry legal objections have hampered that effort.

As early as next week, the Biden administration will make its first land lease sale to drill more than 131,000 acres of public land in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming alone. The government has also begun drilling 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico.

The incident has long been faced, but experts call it an ambitious effort, forcing the government to rethink how it assesses the potential for climate damage with each new drilling permit. There is a possibility.

The proceedings revoked a 2008 legal opinion-dependent decision written by David Byrne, chief attorney for the Interior Ministry under President George W. Bush, who later runs an agency under the Trump administration. Enable it. Bernhardt has declared that the Home Office is not obliged to study the effects of proposed actions that add carbon influx into the atmosphere on endangered plants or animals.

“Science cannot say that the slightest gradual rise in global temperature that can be caused by the behavior under consideration does not appear in the listed species or their habitat locations,” Bernhard wrote at the time. I am.

According to scientists and environmentalists, that position is still largely true. But they also said it was an impossible criterion — it’s like asking for knowledge about which cigarette packet caused lung cancer in smokers.

“It’s a completely wrong way to think about it,” said John J. Winds, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona. He and other researchers have published their research The minutes of the National Academy of Sciences in 2020 found that one-third of plant and animal species could disappear in less than 50 years due to climate change.

“More emissions, more warming puts the species at risk,” Dr. Wiens said. “You don’t have to know that this particular well in Wyoming has led to extinction. You know what the general pattern is.”

Jessica A. Wentz, Senior Fellow of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, commented on the idea that a clear line from pollution to danger is needed: It’s a common misrepresentation. ” .. “

She said the question of whether climate change increases the risk of extinction for green turtles, key deer in Florida, and other species has been resolved. According to Wentz, the actual test is whether the proposed drilling adds a significant amount of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere that could affect certain species.

The lawsuit states that oil and gas production from public land emits 9% of US greenhouse gases and 1% of world emissions, according to an analysis by the Department of Land Management. The lawsuit estimates that about 3,500 drilling permits approved under the Byden administration will release as much as 600 million tonnes of greenhouse gases over the life of the well.

Another law, the National Environmental Policy Act, requires governments to investigate the impact of proposed projects on climate change, but rejects bridges, pipelines, or highways for its consequences. Is not obligatory for government agencies.

However, under the Endangered Species Act, there is a strong presumption that authorities will need to reconsider the project if it turns out to endanger endangered flora and fauna.

Therefore, requiring the government to simply understand the impact of increased emissions on species could radically delay or interfere with drilling permits, environmental groups said.

In an interview, Bernhard said his legal opinion and basic notes from the Director of the US Geological Survey were “written with an incredible amount of work and understanding of law and science.”

Mark D. Myers, who was the director of the USGS in 2008 and wrote a note that helped lay the foundation for Bernhard’s legal opinion, agrees (outlining the challenges of associating emissions with their consequences). did. At that time, he said, the administration scrutinized opinions with top scientists across the institution.

Mr Myers said he believes fossil fuel emissions pose a dire threat to the planet. But he described the Endangered Species Act as a complex law, “the wrong way to achieve changes in our global emission patterns.”

With the midterm elections approaching and Republicans blaming the Democrats for record high gas prices, the case could force the Biden administration to argue that the future of drilling is not enthusiastic. Holly D. Drems of Environmental Law said. Professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Now, it’s a pretty unpleasant time for any government to say’reducing the availability of fossil fuels’,” she said.

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