U.S. Federal Judge Rolls Back Biden's Offshore Leasing Ban

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Published Jun 16, 2021 10:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Tuesday, a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana blocked the Biden administration's decision to halt oil and gas leasing in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. 

On January 27, Biden signed an order instructing the Interior Department to "pause new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or in offshore waters pending completion of a comprehensive review and reconsideration of federal oil and gas permitting and leasing practices." The order did not affect existing oil and gas leases, and the department continued to process drilling permit applications.

In March, the state of Louisiana - which relies heavily on oil and gas activity in U.S. federal waters - filed suit to block the suspension, and 12 other states joined in. The states argued that the White House's decree had not followed appropriate steps for executive branch policymaking, like the requirement for a public comment period. Defending the case, the Justice Department asserted that the Secretary of the Interior has broad latitude to hold (or decline to hold) lease sales, without going through the comment process or other procedural steps required for the rulemaking process..

In his decision, Judge Terry Doughty found in favor of the states, and he cited studies that suggest that "millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake" in federal lease auctions.

The American Petroleum Institute applauded the outcome. "We urge the administration to move expeditiously to follow the court’s order and lift the federal leasing pause," said API Vice President of Upstream Policy Kevin O’Scannlain. "Now is the time for the administration to put an end to this ‘import more oil’ policy that threatens American jobs and deprives state and local communities of much-needed revenue, all while likely increasing emissions and the risks of climate change."

In a statement, the Interior Department said that it is "reviewing the judge's opinion and will comply with the decision."

About 25 percent of the nation's CO2 emissions come from oil and gas activity on federal lands, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and environmental groups were quick to criticize a ruling that will allow these emissions to continue in years ahead. "This is a deeply dangerous order that heightens the imperative for bold, urgent climate action on our public lands and ocean," said Randi Spivak, the public lands program director for the Center for Biological Diversity.