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Senate Energy Committee Leaders Urge Proceeding with Gulf Oil Lease Sale

The lease sale, which was mandated by the 2022 climate legislation known as the Inflation Reduction Act, was initially announced earlier this year and scheduled for September 27. However, in August, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) decided to reduce the acreage available for oil companies to bid on from 73 million acres (30 million hectares) to 67 million acres (27 million hectares). This reduction came after a proposed legal settlement between the administration and environmental groups regarding protections for an endangered whale species.

Oil companies and the state of Louisiana opposed this reduction and filed a lawsuit. A federal judge in southwest Louisiana ordered the sale to proceed at its original scale while eliminating whale protections. This decision was subsequently appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In late September, a panel from the Court of Appeals refused to halt the federal judge’s order but adjusted the date of the sale to November 8, allowing more time for the administration to prepare. However, a different panel later suspended that order and scheduled a hearing on the case’s merits for November 13.

As of Friday, it remained uncertain whether BOEM would postpone the sale until after the November 13 hearing, proceed with the original plan for the sale of 73 million acres, or opt for the scaled-back sale. The notice of the November 8 sale was still visible on the BOEM website. An agency spokesperson mentioned that lawyers were reviewing Thursday’s ruling.

Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the ranking Republican on the energy committee, expressed that the November 8 sale should proceed without further last-minute changes or unnecessary delays. In a statement, Barrasso emphasized that there was no reason to consider additional adjustments.

On Thursday, the committee chairman, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia, who played a pivotal role in passing the climate bill but has frequently criticized the Biden administration’s energy policies, referred to the administration’s management of the lease sale as “a complete mess.” Manchin asserted that the sale should continue, even if it requires withdrawing from the whale protection settlement.

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