September 19, 2023

Cassidy, Barrasso, Westerman Challenge Biden Administration Unilateral Decision to Remove Acreage from Gulf Lease Sale

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY), and House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-AR-04) filed an amicus brief in a case concerning the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (Bureau) decision to alter the terms of “Lease Sale 261,” an oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, set to take place September, 27, 2023. The members of Congress assert that the Bureau’s actions undermine the separation of powers by not faithfully executing laws enacted by the legislative branch.

“It is a foundational principle of our constitutional system that the three branches of government operate via checks and balances. Congress carries responsibility to draft the Nation’s laws. Executive agencies, in turn, have a duty to faithfully execute those laws—neither adding to nor subtracting from what Congress has prescribed. When agencies in the Executive Branch modify or selectively apply statutes, they usurp the role that the Constitution assigned to Congress and undermine that balance,” wrote the members. 

“The Bureau made a last-minute decision to remove millions of acres from Lease Sale 261 and to impose additional and burdensome vessel-travel restrictions on the remaining acreage… Louisiana and other major stakeholders… risk substantial and harmful economic consequences as a result of the challenged provisions. Yet the Bureau did not explain the abrupt-about face in its reasoning for adopting the challenged provisions, nor did it exhibit awareness of the affected reliance interests. Congress has an interest in ensuring that agency decisionmaking is explained and supported by an administrative record and is not the result of a sweetheart settlement in litigation in which an executive agency, such as the Bureau, was not even a party,” continued the members. 

Cassidy, Barrasso, and Westerman were joined by Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) along with Representatives Jerry Carl (R-AL-01), Garret Graves (R-LA-06), Wesley Hunt (R-TX-38), August Pfluger (R-TX-11), and Pete Stauber (R-MN-08).

Read the amicus brief here


The Biden administration recently entered into a closed-door settlement agreement with the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth and Turtle Island Restoration Network. As part of that agreement, the administration is now voluntarily removing 6 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico from potential oil and gas production.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management also wants to impose a 10-knot speed limit and restrict nighttime transit for oil and gas vessels throughout the area, significantly disrupting companies’ ability to drill and produce oil and gas in the Gulf. The decision would effectively deter oil and gas companies from being able to use their vessels properly and efficiently in the Gulf of Mexico, making production unsafe and nearly impossible.

The agreement is based on the idea that ship traffic in the central and western Gulf of Mexico could disturb the habitat of the Rice’s whale. This is based on a singular study with a flawed methodology, and federal statutes and regulations require much more evidence before such a sweeping decision is handed down. BOEM is also unilaterally imposing these restrictions on only oil and natural gas companies, which make up a small portion of the overall ship traffic in the area.

The restrictions imposed by this agreement could result in reduced bidding in the next offshore lease sale, reduced investment in the region, fewer jobs, and higher prices for all Americans. Fifteen percent of the country’s crude oil is produced from Gulf of Mexico, which will be stifled due to the Biden administration’s shortsighted decisions.