By Tom Ozimek
A federal judge in Louisiana has blocked President Joe Biden’s suspension of new oil and gas leases on federal land and water, delivering a setback to the administration’s efforts to transition away from fossil fuels.
U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty’s ruling (pdf), filed on June 15, grants a preliminary injunction in a 13-state lawsuit led by Louisiana Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry (pdf).
“This is a victory not only for the rule of law, but also for the thousands of workers who produce affordable energy for Americans,” Landry said in a statement following the ruling.
Technically, the injunction amounts to a halt of the Biden administration’s suspension of new drilling permits, with a nationwide effect, pending further arguments on the merits of the case. The lawsuit alleged that the Biden administration violated provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and that Biden exceeded his powers in Section 208 of Executive Order 14008.
Biden, on his first day in office, signed the order, which says the federal government “must advance environmental justice” and, among other efforts, “reduce greenhouse gas emissions” and “bolster resilience to the impacts of climate change.”
Landry and the other plaintiffs argued that the administration bypassed comment periods and other bureaucratic steps required before a drilling permit pause could be imposed, and that the move would cost the states money and jobs.
“The Plaintiff States’ claims are substantial. Millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake,” the judge, a Trump appointee, wrote in a memorandum (pdf). “Local government funding, jobs for Plaintiff State 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 on land oil and gas lease sales.”
The judge added that, in imposing the moratorium, the Biden administration failed to provide sufficient rationale for its decision.
“The omission of any rational explanation in canceling the lease sales, and in enacting the Pause, results in this Court ruling that Plaintiff States also have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of this claim,” the judge wrote.
Interior Department communications director Melissa Schwartz responded to the injunction in a statement, saying, “we are reviewing the judge’s opinion and will comply with the decision,” although she didn’t specify any plans to appeal the injunction.
“The Interior Department continues to work on an interim report that will include initial findings on the state of the federal conventional energy programs, as well as outline next steps and recommendations for the Department and Congress to improve stewardship of public lands and waters, create jobs, and build a just and equitable energy future,” she added.
Doughty’s ruling came after hearing oral arguments last week, in which lawyers for Landry’s office made the case that Biden administration officials can’t legally halt all lease sales, citing the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the Mineral Leasing Act as explicitly prohibiting the moratorium.
“While our fight is far from over, I am pleased the Court granted preliminary relief against the President’s unconscionable attack on American energy,” Landry said in a statement.
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.