14 Red States Sue to Block Biden Suspension of Oil & Gas Leases

GOP attorneys general claim the president’s executive orders pausing new oil and gas leases on federal lands are an abuse of power.

An oil rig and pump jack in Midland, Texas. (Jacob Ford/Odessa American via AP, File)

BATON ROUGE, La. (CN) — Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced Wednesday that his state has joined 12 others in a lawsuit against the Biden administration over moratoriums on new leases for oil and gas drilling on federal lands.  

“By executive fiat, Joe Biden and his administration have single-handedly driven the price of energy up – costing the American people where it hurts most, in their pocketbooks,” Landry, a Republican, said in a Wednesday press release. “Biden’s executive orders abandon middle-class jobs at a time when America needs them most and put our energy security in the hands of foreign countries, many of whom despise America’s greatness.”

The Bayou State was joined in the lawsuit filed Wednesday morning in the Western District of Louisiana by Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. All of the plaintiff states have Republican attorneys general. Wyoming also filed its own suit challenging the moratoriums Wednesday.

The 13 states in the suit led by Landry seek a court order that would end the halt on new and existing oil and gas leases that President Joe Biden signed into being on Jan. 27 as part of his executive orders on climate change. 

In January, in two separate orders, President Biden issued moratoriums on new development of oil and gas fields on federal land as well as restrictions on existing leases.

In his statement, Landry called the orders “an aggressive, reckless abuse of presidential power that threatens American families’ livelihoods and our national interests.”

 “The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and Mineral Leasing Act set out specific statutory duties requiring executive agencies to further the expeditious and safe development of the abundant energy,” the complaint states. “In compliance with those statutes, the Department of the Interior has for decades issued leases for the development of oil and natural gas on public lands and offshore waters.”

The lawsuit seeks an order that the government be given a go ahead with an oil and gas lease sale that had been slated for March 17 as well as a sale planned for this year in Alaska’s Cook Inlet.

The lawsuit additionally asks that suspended lease sales go forward, including sales that had been halted for federal lands in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, and Oklahoma.

The lawsuit says the Biden administration and multiple federal agencies bypassed comment periods and other steps required before lease sales can be postponed and said the delay in sales will ultimately hurt restoration efforts, as the money states use to restore land comes from such leases. 

The moratorium “glistens with irony,” the lawsuit states. “It purports to protect the environment, but it constitutes what is likely the single-largest divestment of revenue for environmental protection projects in American history.”

But a January press release from the Department of the Interior says it is too early for significant worry over the halt on lease sales. According to the release, the Trump administration flooded the oil and gas industry with lease opportunities that were offered during a “fire sale” of public lands and waters.

“The oil and gas industry has stockpiled millions of acres of leases on public lands and waters,” the press release said. In response, according to the document, the Biden administration’s executive order was put forth to “help restore balance on public lands and waters, create jobs, and provide a path to align the management of America’s public lands and waters with our nation’s climate, conservation, and clean energy goals.”

The document notes that the continental U.S. loses “a football field worth of [land in a natural state] every 30 seconds. The decline of nature threatens wildlife; across the globe, approximately one million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades, including one-third of U.S. wildlife.”

Michelle Ghafar, a California-based attorney for Earthjustice, said the lawsuit brought by the red states is “not surprising.”

Ghafer pointed to a May 4, 2020 federal ruling from U.S. District Judge Brian Morris for the District of Montana, Great Falls Division that vacated 287 oil and gas leases over the Bureau of Land Management’s failure to assess for groundwater and climate impacts.

“The [Trump] administration really just tried to give away as much public land as possible,” Ghafer said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon.

“Biden’s halt to leasing and his climate review of the federal fossil fuel programs is long overdue and well within his legal authority,” Taylor McKinnon, senior campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity said in an email Wednesday to Courthouse News.

“These states would be better off forcing this dirty industry to clean up its mess and start restoring the communities and ecosystems damaged by fracking and drilling,” McKinnon added. “This lawsuit is a pathetic attempt to rescue a dangerous, dying industry.”

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