Federal Court Overturns Biden Administration’s Illegal Leasing Ban on Federal Lands

The Biden administration’s attempt to block responsible oil and natural gas development on federal lands and waters was dealt a major blow on Tuesday after a federal court ruled that it was an illegal pause on new lease sales.

Banning new oil and gas development on federal lands was a key campaign promise from President Biden – within a week of taking office, he issued Executive Order 14008 that paused new leasing while his administration conducts a review of the federal leasing program.

In response, Louisiana and 12 other states filed a lawsuit against the administration claiming the order violated the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA) and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). U.S. District Court Judge Terry Doughty agreed, granting a preliminary injunction lifting the ban on the basis that the president had no legal authority to enact such a pause without approval from Congress.

In his ruling, Doughty cited the OCSLA and the MLA, both laws passed by Congress that requires the executive branch to hold lease sales, and therefore, a pause while environmental reviews are conducted are illegal. He said:

“Although there is certainly nothing wrong with performing a comprehensive review, there is a problem in ignoring acts of Congress while the review is being completed.

“…By pausing the leasing, the agencies are in effect amending two Congressional statutes, OCSLA and MLA, which they do not have the authority to do.”

The Washington Examiner reported that the ruling “[forces] the administration to end its pause and proceed with offering new leases to drill on federal lands and offshore waters.”

Doughty also acknowledged the real-world impacts of the pause and said that energy-producing states would face “irreparable injury” if the illegal ban stayed in place:

“Millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake. Local government funding, jobs for Plaintiff State workers, and funds for the restoration of Louisiana’s Coastline are at stake. Plaintiff States have a reliance interest in the proceeds derived from offshore and on land oil and gas lease sales.”

Energy In Depth has provided extensive coverage on the negative economic and budgetary effects of this illegal leasing ban.

Top industry leaders and elected officials praised the court ruling as a boost to the American energy sector.

Dan Naatz, Executive Vice President at the Independent Petroleum Association, said:

“IPAA is pleased with the ruling from the Federal District Court lifting the Biden leasing ban. The Administration has never fully explained why President Biden implemented this plan that creates extreme uncertainty for America’s energy producers and violates existing law. The MLA and the OCSLA are clear that the federal government should offer onshore and offshore lands for mineral leasing on a predictable schedule. We are pleased the Court listened to the arguments of the states and lifted the leasing ban.”

Kevin O’Scannlain, Vice President of Upstream Policy at the American Petroleum Institute, said:

“We are pleased to see the court ruling that natural gas and oil leasing must resume on federal lands and waters, and we urge the administration to move expeditiously to follow the court’s order and lift the federal leasing pause. Now is the time for the administration to put an end to this ‘import more oil’ policy that threatens American jobs and deprives state and local communities of much-needed revenue, all while likely increasing emissions and the risks of climate change.”

Kathleen Sgamma, President of the Western Energy Alliance which, along with the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, filed a similar lawsuit against the administration shortly after the order was issued, said:

“The bottom line is that the president can’t simply ignore the plain language of the law. People’s livelihoods and the vital state services funded by oil and natural gas can’t just be scarified on the altar of climate change, especially since if we don’t produce it here, it comes from Russia or Saudi Arabia. This is an appropriate check on a president exceeding his authority, and we’re glad there are reasonable judges in the federal court system that follow the law and not just their policy preferences, which had happened all too often in recent years.”

The National Ocean Industries Association President Erik Milito told E&E News:

“As NOIA has consistently commented, the Department of the Interior is required by law to expeditiously develop America’s energy resources, and this includes the obligation to schedule and hold offshore oil and gas lease sales.”

The Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association and the Gulf Economic Survival Team also responded:

“Today’s actions highlight how seriously the people and communities of the Gulf Coast are impacted by an offshore leasing moratorium or any policy decisions that impact America’s energy industry. Any actions that limit Gulf energy development stifles Louisiana’s economic growth, threatens thousands of jobs, and undermines decades of environmental progress. We support transitional policies that will help us meet our world’s growing energy demands. while protecting our environment, our coast, and our culture.”

The Utah Petroleum Association President Rikki Hrenko-Browning said:

“Yesterday’s federal court ruling is a victory for common sense. Utah is comprised of 2/3 federal lands and has functioned successfully under a doctrine of multiple use for decades. We have significant energy development activity and a thriving tourism and outdoor recreation industry simultaneously. The Biden leasing moratorium arbitrarily stopped oil and gas leases not for scientific purposes, but political ones, which is contrary to good policy and the spirit of collaboration. We’re pleased the federal courts have upheld the rule of the law and we look forward to continuing our long tradition of working with stakeholders of all stripes to deliver the energy we all use every day while preserving our environment for everyone’s enjoyment and appreciation.”

The Louisiana Oil and Gas Association President Mike Moncla said:

“Louisiana’s economy has suffered under this pandemic, and the energy sector has gotten the brunt of it. If President Biden wants to truly enact policies that get this nation back on track, he should join the industry’s efforts in modernizing clean energy practices while maintaining a prosperous economy. Even though the fight against the Biden Administration’s climate agenda is far from over, this is a glimmer of hope for an industry that has suffered under this White House.”

The West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association Executive Director Chelsie Miera said:

“The judge deserves real credit for striking down an energy ban that was overreaching, illegal, and would have profoundly hurt rural communities across the American West. Joe Biden promised the American people he wouldn’t try to ban fracking. We’re glad a federal judge gave the President a hand keeping his ‘promise.'”

Jeff Landry, the Louisiana Attorney General who led the lawsuit against the administration, said:

“This is a victory not only for the rule of law, but also for the thousands of workers who produce affordable energy for Americans. We appreciate that federal courts have recognized President Biden is completely outside his authority in his attempt to shut down oil and gas leases on federal lands.”

Sen. John Barrasso, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said:

“President Biden’s ban on new oil and gas leases is illegal. This decision is a victory for the rule of law and American energy workers. The president’s illegal ban has hurt workers and deprived Wyoming and other states of a principal source of revenue that they use for public education. President Biden should immediately rescind his punishing ban and let Americans get back to work.”

Rep. Dan Newhouse, the Chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, said:

“Yesterday, this reckless act was temporarily remedied. Not only is this a welcomed decision for America and our energy security, but it is also a win for the rule of law. I am thankful our judicial system is providing a check on this extreme and unlawful action taken by the Biden Administration. The Department of the Interior must quickly comply with this decision and bring relief to hundreds of struggling rural communities who rely on oil and natural gas revenues.”

Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-NM), who has been trying for months to get an exemption from the waiver for New Mexico, shared a video of her reaction to the announcement:

In a comment to Politico, the Department of Interior said it will review the order and comply, but the question remains, when will the next lease sale be scheduled?

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