WASHINGTON – A federal judge in Louisiana has blocked the Biden government’s suspension of new state and waterfront oil and gas leases as the first major legal hurdle to President Biden’s quest to reduce fossil fuel pollution and preserve public land.
Judge Terry A. Doughty of the US District Court for the Western District of Louisiana issued an injunction against the government Tuesday, saying that the power to suspend offshore oil and gas leases “rests with Congress alone,” because it is the legislature that originally made the state and its waters available for lease.
Judge Doughty also ruled that 13 states suing the government for suspending new leases “have shown that there is a significant likelihood that President Biden has exceeded his powers”.
Jeff Landry, the Republican attorney general of Louisiana and attorneys general for 12 other states, all Republicans, filed a lawsuit in March to repeal the White House order that temporarily suspended new state and water well drilling leases. Mr Biden had signed the mandate in his first week of office in January and said he would take a break to do a full review of the program.
Judge Doughty ruled that Home Secretary Deb Haaland and her agency “are hereby prohibited and prevented from implementing the pause for new oil and gas leases on public land or in offshore waters.” until the legal dispute between the states and the administration is resolved.
He wrote that the new letting break should end nationwide and pointed out that such blanket injunctions against federal lawsuits are extremely rare. However, the judge appointed by President Donald J. Trump concluded that the 13 states have proven that their economies could be irreparably damaged by the drilling break.
Louisiana was joined by Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.
The suspension of the leases was one of the most prominent and controversial political moves by a president who has made climate protection a central point on his agenda.
Environmentalists celebrated the break as a sign that Mr Biden is serious about stopping fossil fuel production, the combustion of which is the main cause of global warming.
June 15, 2021, 9:55 p.m. ET
Scientists have warned that the world must urgently reduce emissions if it has a chance to keep global average temperatures above 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. This is the threshold at which experts say the planet will suffer catastrophic, irreversible damage. The temperature change isn’t even around the globe; some regions have already reached an increase of 2 degrees Celsius.
A recent report from the International Energy Agency concluded that major economies must immediately stop approving new coal-fired power plants and oil and gas fields if the world is to stave off the most devastating effects of global warming.
Republicans and the oil industry criticized the hiatus as an example of government overwhelming power that could harm the economy and displace thousands of oil and gas workers.
Judge Doughty agreed. “Millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake,” he wrote in his ruling, noting that states depend on a portion of the lease payments to fund government programs, including conservation projects. “Local government funding, the jobs for the plaintiff state employees, and the resources needed to restore the Louisiana coast are at stake.”
About 10 percent of the country’s oil and gas supply comes from public land. Fossil fuel drilling on state, waterfront and tribal land generated more than $ 8 billion in tax revenue last year, according to the Home Office. Of that, $ 2.9 billion went to the federal government, $ 1.8 billion to state and local governments, with the remainder being shared among Indian tribes, restoration projects, and other funds.
A Home Office spokeswoman, which manages state and state oil and gas leases, said in a statement that the government is reviewing Tuesday’s ruling and will comply.
The spokeswoman, who declined to be cited by name, said the Home Office was continuing to work on an interim report to Mr Biden on the state of the federal oil and gas drilling programs, as well as recommendations on the future of the federal role in drilling on public land.
It is expected that Ms. Haaland will send these recommendations to Mr. Biden later this summer.
In a statement, Mr. Landry called the restraining order “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 that President Biden is completely outside his authority in attempting to land oil and gas leases.
The Democrats in Congress said they would press ahead with legislative efforts to restrict oil drilling on public land.
“We need to update our fossil fuel leasing laws across the board to create cleaner, more sustainable standards of use for our public resources, as this committee is trying to do,” said Raul Grijalva, Rep., Democrat of Arizona and chairman of the Natural Resources Committee of the House. “Our economic and environmental future should not be the subject of decisions based on industry-funded science or opportunistic grievances that we heard only after President Biden was sworn in.”
Ms. Haaland, a former environmental activist, once said the federal government should ban all new hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, an environmentally damaging form of oil and gas drilling, from public land.
Today she heads the agency that oversees the country’s 500 million hectares of public land, including national parks and current oil and gas wells.
She has also been tasked with overseeing Mr Biden’s “30 by 30” initiative, which calls for 30 percent of public land and water to be preserved by 2030.