A federal appeals court on Thursday indefinitely stayed an earlier order requiring the Biden administration to hold a November oil lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, though it’s unclear whether the administration will immediately proceed with the sale.
The Interior Department is required to hold the lease sale under the text of the Inflation Reduction Act, the sweeping climate and infrastructure bill President Biden signed into law last year. This August, the administration announced it would shrink the leasing area by about 6 million acres, citing dangers to the habitat of the critically endangered Rice’s whale.
The following month, however, a federal judge blocked the restriction and ordered the sale to include those 6 million acres. Judge James Cain, a Trump appointee, sided with plaintiffs including the state of Louisiana and energy companies, writing they “have demonstrated substantial potential costs.” The sale, which was initially given a deadline of Sept. 27, which was later pushed back to Nov. 8.
On Thursday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the earlier order until it reaches a decision on an appeal of the order by conservation groups. Oral arguments in the appeal in the 5 Circuit Court are set for Nov. 13.
“We look forward to the opportunity to present our arguments to the Court of Appeals,” said Steve Mashuda, an attorney with the environmental advocacy group Earthjustice, which is involved in the appeal. “We’ll continue to press for restoring basic measures to prevent harm to the critically endangered Rice’s Whale.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates there are less than 100 Rice’s whales alive, making it among the most endangered whale species worldwide.
A spokesperson for the Interior Department declined to comment on whether the lease sale will still take place as scheduled Nov. 8.