Interior Acknowledges Illegal Leasing Ban Is ‘Still In Effect’
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland appeared before the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee this morning to discuss the department’s fiscal year 2022 budget. As expected, a significant portion of the questioning centered around the federal leasing review and a June court order declaring the ban illegal.
Despite the court ruling that ordered the department to schedule lease sales, in an exchange with Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Secretary Haaland acknowledged the ban is “still in effect”.
Messaging on leasing pause is a bit confusing. Haaland just now, “Technically I suppose you could say the pause is still in place. However we are complying with the court order.”
— Joshua Siegel (@SiegelScribe) July 27, 2021
Here’s that exchange:
Sen. Hyde-Smith: “So the ban has been released?”
Sec. Haaland: I supposed that the pause that you are referring to that President Biden ordered in his executive order is, uh – I suppose it’s still in effect. I mean you can say that as soon as one lease happens that the pause is over. But what I can say is we’re complying with the court order and we are doing the work necessary to move in that direction soon.”
Sen. Hyde-Smith: “So, the pause is not in place at this time?”
Sec. Haaland: “Well, technically, I suppose you could say the pause is still in place. However, we are complying with the court order to move forward on releasing the report and moving this issue forward.” (emphasis added)
Actually, Judge Terry A. Doughty’s decision gives no direction on when Interior’s leasing report should be released or if it ever has to be, but he is clear on the department holding lease sales:
“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.” (emphasis added)
“The Plaintiff States have satisfied all four elements required for a preliminary injunction to be issued. After considering all factors, this Court has determined that a preliminary injunction should be issued by Plaintiff States against the Government Defendants.” (emphasis added)
The chicken or the egg?
While the judge was clear that the leasing review and its associated reports have nothing to do with the illegal ban, Secretary Haaland married the two in responses that sounded like leasing will not resume until a report is issued.
Adding to the uncertainty this review period has created, the Secretary affirmed that the forthcoming report is in fact an interim report – there will be a second final report – but in an exchange with Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) seemed unclear on which report would need to be issued in order to schedule lease sales:
Sen. Lankford: “So, there’s an interim report that’s soon. A final report that’s soon. Do you expect the decision on lease sales after the final report or after the interim report or before?”
Sec. Haaland: “Well after the report is, after the final report, the interim report, whatever report is moved forward, we will be able to make… we will have made decisions and be able to implement whatever changes are perhaps necessary and move that forward.” (emphasis added)
When Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) specifically asked when lease sales will resume, the Secretary answered:
“I can’t give you a specific date. I wish I could but, unfortunately, I cannot.”
Transparency coming… ‘very soon’?
Federal policymakers on both sides of the aisles also sought clarification on when the interim leasing report will be issued to no avail throughout the hearing. As Sen. Hyde-Smith stressed in her opening remarks:
“I’m really thankful that we were able to discuss some of these concerns about a month ago in the Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Interior; however, it is concerning to me that many of the questions and concerns my colleagues and I brought up in that hearing still lack answers today such as over the oil and gas leasing ban. And, as you are well aware, a federal court judge ruled the pause on new leases unlawful. Yet, there’s been no response or action taken by your department to follow the law.
“I’m aware that the interim report, which is said to include initial findings on the status of the federal conventional energy programs are outlined and the recommendations for Congress is going to be released. But I just feel that this committee needs answers today and it certainly deserves transparency.”
While Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) set the tone in his opening remarks when he said that “we are well into the early summer timeline” that was promised and that “we need a plan to move forward with responsible oil and gas leasing,” and members asked for clarification again and again, the Secretary’s response remained the same: the report will be coming “soon.”
As Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said:
“There has been a lot of conversation this morning or certainly a lot of questions with regards to the oil and gas leasing review and the timing on that. Your department has consistently said that this was going to be released early summer. Well, we’re beyond early summer.
“Last month, you testified before the House Natural Resources committee that it will be coming ‘soon’. Last week you said, you were quoted again that it will be ‘soon’. You have replied to Senators Manchin, Barrasso, Lankford, Smith this morning that it will be ‘soon’. So, I’m not going to ask you when you think it’s gonna be coming because I think I know what your answer is. And I still don’t – none of us know what your answer is.
“So, I hope you can sense the frustration that so many of us have in anticipating this and wondering when we will be able to expect that you’ll be in compliance with the judge’s order.”
Perhaps those answers will come “soon.”