NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge
blocked the Biden administration
's suspension of new oil and gas
leases on federal land and water
on Tuesday, ordering that lease sales for the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska
waters, as well as "all eligible onshore properties," proceed.
The decision is a setback for Democratic President Joe Biden
's efforts to quickly transition the country away from fossil fuels
and thus avoid the worst effects of climate change
, such as catastrophic droughts, floods, and wildfires
The ruling was issued by U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in response to a lawsuit
filed in March by Louisiana Republican
Attorney General Jeff Landry and officials from 12 other states
. Doughty stated that his ruling applies nationwide, and it grants a preliminary injunction — effectively halting the suspension pending further arguments on the merits of the case.
“The absence of any rational explanation in canceling the lease sales and enacting the Pause results in this Court ruling that Plaintiff States have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of this claim,” he wrote.
“We are reviewing the judge’s opinion and will comply with the decision,” said Melissa Schwartz of the Interior Department
in an email. “The Interior Department continues to work
on an interim report that will include preliminary findings on the state of federal conventional energy
programs, as well as outline next steps and recommendations for the Department and Congress
to improve stewardship of federal conventional energy programs.
The moratorium was imposed after Biden signed executive orders to combat climate change on January 27, and the suit was filed in March. The Interior Department later canceled oil and gas lease sales from public lands through June, affecting Nevada
, New Mexico
, and the bureau's eastern region.
Biden's orders included a request for Interior officials to investigate whether the leasing program unfairly benefits corporations at the expense of taxpayers, as well as the program's impact on climate change.
The 13 states that filed the lawsuit claimed that the administration skipped comment periods and other bureaucratic steps required before such delays could be implemented, and that the moratorium would cost the states money
. Doughty heard arguments in the case last week in Lafayette.
Federal attorneys argued that the public notice and comment period does not apply to the suspension, that lease sales are not required by law, and that the Secretary of the Interior has broad discretion in leasing decisions.
“No existing lease has been cancelled as a result of any of the actions challenged here, and development activity from exploration to drilling and production has continued at similar levels as the preceding four years,” administration lawyers argued in briefs.
Doughty, on the other hand, sided with the plaintiff states' attorneys, who argued that the delay in new leasing costs the states revenue from rents and royalties.
“Millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake,” wrote Doughty, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2017 by President Donald Trump
“Local government funding, jobs for Plaintiff State workers, and funds for the restoration of Louisiana’s Coastline are at stake,” he added, referring to the possibility of a loss of oil and gas revenue, which pays for Louisiana’s efforts to restore coastal wetlands.
Other plaintiff states include Alabama
, Alaska, Arkansas
, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma
, Utah, and West Virginia
“This is a victory not only for the rule of law, but also for the thousands of workers who produce affordable energy for Americans,” Landry said in a statement released shortly after the decision.
This article was contributed to by Associated Press
reporter Matt Brown in Billings, Montana.