Judge permanently blocks Biden leasing pause in states that sued

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A Louisiana judge issued a permanent injunction against the Biden administration’s moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands Thursday night, a day after another court tossed an earlier injunction against it.

In the Thursday ruling, Judge Terry Doughty of the Western District of Louisiana permanently blocked the January 2021 order in 13 states that sued over the order in March of that year. The states in question are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. It does not apply to any states uninvolved in the lawsuit.

Doughty ruled the order was in violation of the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA) and Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), saying it took steps reserved for Congress.

“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, a Trump appointee, wrote.

“The MLA requires the DOI [Interior Department] 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 OCSLA nor the MLA gives the Government Defendants’ agencies the authority to implement a Stop of lease sales,” he added.

On Wednesday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals tossed an earlier injunction by Doughty, sending it back to the Western District of Louisiana to clarify the injunction.

“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 of the Executive Order, or the Executive Order itself—is enjoined,” the appeals court wrote.

Biden’s original order blocked new federal oil and gas leasing on federal lands while allowing existing leases to continue as well as leases on private land. Although the order called for the pause to allow for an Interior Department review of federal leasing and permitting, the administration has continued to defend the order in court since the completion of the review. Further lease sales, including one by the end of the year, are required under the Inflation Reduction Act, which Biden signed earlier this week.

The Hill has reached out to the Interior Department for comment.

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