Climate activists want fossil-fuel lease auction canceled in flood-stricken Louisiana

(Aerial photo of this week's flooding along the Amite River in Louisiana via NASA.)

The historic flooding that has left at least 13 people dead and damaged some 40,000 homes in southwestern and central Louisiana this week was caused by record heavy rain, with as much as 31 inches falling in some places over the course of several days.

While scientists are cautious about saying climate change is the cause of any single weather event, they point out that five other states — among them South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia — have experienced deadly flooding in the last 15 months. They also note that the Louisiana flood is the eighth event in that period in which rainfall in a given area of the U.S. has matched or exceeded what scientists predict will occur only once every 500 years.

These unusually heavy rainfall events are exactly what scientists have predicted would happen with greater frequency in a warming climate. For example, the 2014 National Climate Assessment for the Southeast region, which includes Louisiana, found that heavy rains are becoming both more intense and more frequent as the planet warms. Last month was the Earth's warmest on record, and this year is also expected to break temperature records.

Given the connection between the Louisiana floods and climate change, environmental activists are calling on the Obama administration to cancel the fossil-fuel lease auction scheduled to take place in New Orleans next week, where it plans to put up for bid 23.8 million acres — an area nearly the size of Virginia — in the Western Gulf of Mexico.

"This auction would enable the fossil fuel industry to do more of the very thing that is intensifying these floods in the first place," Gulf Coast environmental activist Cherri Foytlin wrote in a message posted this week by the climate action group inviting supporters to sign a petition calling on the administration to call off the auction. "Allowing next week's fossil fuel auction to move forward is rubbing salt in the wounds of a region already in a state of emergency."

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced the Aug. 24 auction last month. It will be the last lease sale before President Obama leaves office — and the first to use an online system in which bids will be taken over the internet. BOEM said the move online "aims to promote greater government efficiency and transparency, eliminating the need for the public to physically attend the bid reading at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome."

But the switch to an online bid system comes after climate activists affiliated with the Keep It in the Ground movement began disrupting fossil-fuel lease auctions — both offshore lease auctions held by BOEM and onshore lease auctions held by the Bureau of Land Management.

The last offshore lease auction, which was held in New Orleans in March, drew hundreds of raucous but nonviolent protesters. A BOEM spokesperson told the Houston Chronicle that the lease sale protest played a role in its decision to launch online bidding, saying the agency had "to take into consideration the safety of everyone."