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Federal judge permanently blocks Biden pause on oil and gas leases

The judge responded to an appeals court’s decision to throw out his preliminary injunction with an order permanently blocking the Biden administration from halting new lease sales in 13 states.

LAKE CHARLES, La. (CN) — One day after the Biden administration prevailed in a Fifth Circuit order upholding its suspension of new oil and gas leases on public land, a federal judge whose preliminary injunction was vacated by the appeals court issued a permanent block on the pause.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in the Western District of Louisiana handed down a permanent injunction late Thursday blocking Biden’s January 2021 executive order in 13 states that sued last March: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. Doughty's previous nationwide injunction no longer applies.

As part of a larger order addressing climate change, Biden blocked new oil and gas leasing on federal lands but allowed leases on private lands in addition to a continuation of existing leases.  

Doughty, an appointee of Donald Trump, said in the ruling Thursday the government’s postponement of leases violates the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the Mineral Leasing Act.

“Both statutes require Government Defendants’ agencies to sell oil and gas leases. The OCSLA has a Five-Year Plan in effect that requires eligible leases to be sold. Government Defendants’ agencies have no authority to make significant revisions in the OCSLA Five-Year Plan without going through the procedure mandated by Congress,” Doughty wrote.

He added, “The MLA required the DOI [Department of Interior] to hold lease sales, where eligible lands are available at lease quarterly. By stopping the process, the agencies are in effect amending two Congressional statutes. Neither the OSCLA nor the MLA gives the Government Defendants’ agencies the authority to implement a Stop of lease sales."

The judge said that because funds for coastal restoration in Louisiana come in part through mineral leases, millions if not billions of dollars are at stake with the government’s pause in oil and gas leasing.

“Plaintiff States’ claims are substantial. Millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake. Local government funding, jobs for Plaintiff States’ 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 onshore oil and gas lease sales,” Doughty wrote.

The Department of the Interior did not immediately reply to an email request for comment. As of Friday afternoon, the government had not yet appealed Doughty's permanent injunction.

On Wednesday, the Fifth Circuit threw out Doughty's preliminary injunction from June and sent the case back to him for clarification on his order, while putting the leasing pause back in place.

“We cannot reach the merits of the Government's challenge when we cannot ascertain from the record what conduct – an unwritten agency policy, a written policy outside the Executive Order, or the Executive Order itself – is enjoined,” U.S. Circuit Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham, an appointee of Gerald Ford, wrote for a three-judge panel.

Although the Biden administration continues to defend its suspension of new leasing, the Inflation Reduction Act, which the president signed earlier this week, includes an expansion of lease sales off the coast of Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico.

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