Several climate and conservation groups are suing the US Department of the Interior for more information about the department’s November review of its oil and gas leasing program – a report that has been widely criticized for circumventing the program’s impact on the climate crisis.
Represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, the groups — Montana Environmental Information Center, Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians — filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests last year to access correspondence between federal officials on the drafting of the report.
They received documents in two responses from offices within the DOI, including the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, but they were redacted, Barbara Chillcott, senior counsel at the Western Environmental Law Center, told CNN.
Chillcott estimated that of the documents provided so far, about 75% of the information has been redacted.
The interior released its long-awaited review of drilling on federal lands and oceans on Black Friday of last year. The review recommended an increase in rental fees and consideration of environmental concerns in rental decisions. But the report largely evaded the issue of climate change and did not recommend stopping new oil and gas leases – a promise on which President Joe Biden has campaigned.
“The climate crisis is a public issue; they are public agencies,” Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaign manager at the Center for Biological Diversity, told CNN. “We want to see communications, we want to see these drafts, we want the public to be able to understand why and how the administration backed down from its climate promise in federal oil and gas leases.”
Climate groups have strongly criticized the report for not doing enough to tackle climate change.
“From our perspective, the report really fell flat in terms of meeting the needs of addressing the climate crisis and appeared to fall short of President Biden’s executive order on addressing the climate crisis,” Chillcott said. “It was a big disappointment for us. The word comprehensive does not come to mind every time I think of this report.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The government has 30 days from the complaint to file a response. Chillcott said she hopes environmental groups can eventually prevail, given that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland recently issued new FOIA guidelines pushing agencies to be more transparent.
Still, the trial itself could take months.
“Honestly, I don’t know how long it will take,” Chillcott said. “We certainly hope this will serve as a catalyst for agencies to respond, but the timeline is uncertain at this stage.”