The U.S. Department of the Interior announced yesterday morning that it will begin selling leases to allow offshore oil drilling in 38 million acres in the central Gulf of Mexico. Environmental groups say the move is troubling, as regulatory oversight and environmental problems related to the catastrophic 2010 gulf oil spill haven’t yet been fully remedied.

President Obama made the announcement during an appearance in Las Vegas, where he expanded on the energy blueprint laid out in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.

The announcement came despite a National Academy of Engineering report released last month that revealed that deepwater drilling is one “of the most complex and most risky ventures conducted by commercial enterprises.”

The report also said that the Deepwater Horizon disaster raises “questions about the industry’s overall safety preparedness, the ability to handle the complexities of the deep-water operations, and industry oversight to approve and monitor well plans and operational practices and personnel competency and training.”

The environmental law firm Earthjustice filed suit against the federal government last year, alleging that federal regulators conducted an “irrationally optimistic risk assessment” for Shell’s plan to drill for oil in deep gulf waters near the site of BP’s devastating spill. The suit, filed on behalf of the Sierra Club, the Gulf Restoration Network and the Florida Wildlife Federation, is currently awaiting oral arguments.

In a press release sent out today, Earthjustice attorney David Guest argued that the Interior Department’s announcement flies in the face of logic.

“The federal government is acting as if the BP disaster never happened,” Guest said. “The Interior Department is supposed to be looking out for the public. Instead, they are pandering to drilling companies and putting Gulf Coast communities at risk.”

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