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Bid to block first Gulf leases since BP spill

U.S. Coast Guard / Getty Images, file

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig burns on April 21, 2010.

A day before the Obama administration aims to showcase that the Gulf of Mexico is ready for new drilling, environmental groups on Tuesday sued to try to stop the leases.

The Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the coalition argues in its complaint, relies on an environmental impact statement that:

  • "Fails to adequately consider the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill;
  • "Does not incorporate new understandings of the risks posed by offshore driling, particularly in deepwater;
  • "Ignores new information regarding the oil spill containment and response capabilities of industry; and
  • "Fails to assess impacts using a post Deepwater Horizon baseline for species and habitats in the Gulf."

Catherine Wannamaker, an attorney representing the coalition in court, called it "illegal and irresponsible" for "the government and oil companies to return to business as usual without considering the oil spill’s impacts on the Gulf."

"We did not ask for an injunction of tomorrow’s sale, though we have apprised the government of our case and asked that they delay the sale or at a minimum notify bidders of the lawsuit," Wannamaker told msnbc.com. "We have not heard an answer, but my guess is that the sale will commence tomorrow."

The administration on Wednesday intends to announce the winners of the first oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf since the BP spill.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will even travel to New Orleans "to mark a major milestone in jumpstarting restoration of the Gulf region," the department said in a statement.

Twenty companies have submitted 241 bids on 191 tracts off Texas, the department added.

Following the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20, 2010, which killed 11 men and led to the worst U.S. oil spill, the Interior Department reorganized how it regulates the offshore energy industry.

BP and partners Transocean and Halliburton have been cited in various government reports as sharing responsibility for the disaster. The reports have also urged changes in corporate and regulatory culture, but many of the recommendations have yet to be implemented.

The National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council are coming out with their offshore drilling recommendations on Wednesday.

Tuesday's complaint was filed before the District Court in Washington, D.C., by Oceana, Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The judge hearing the complaint is not required to rule before Wednesday's sale.

But if "the judge ultimately decides in our favor," Oceana campaign director Jackie Savitz told msnbc.com, "the government may have to buy back the leases."

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