Judge Strikes Down Ban On Federal Oil and Gas Leases

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In January, we argued strongly against the Biden Administration’s announcement suspending the issuance of oil and gas leases on federal lands. We pointed out that the ban would damage the economic security of multiple states and be a significant step backward for U.S. energy security. Last week, a federal judge in Louisiana agreed with our stance and issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Administration from implementing the ban.

During his first week in office, President Biden directed the Department of the Interior to temporarily suspend oil and gas leases on federal lands while conducting a “comprehensive review” of its leasing program. This move was part of a larger initiative to reduce carbon emissions. However, Louisiana, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia responded by filing suit in federal court, asking the judge to undo the directive pending court arguments immediately.

In Monroe, Louisiana, Judge Terry A. Doughty of the U.S. District Court agreed with the states by issuing a preliminary injunction preventing the Biden Administration from moving forward with its moratorium. Judge Doughty reasoned that these states’ arguments would likely prevail in future court proceedings. Why? Because current federal law requires the Department of the Interior to auction federal oil and gas leases. Thus, Congress must authorize the ban through a change in federal law.  It simply can’t be done through unilateral action from the Biden Administration.

Oil and gas drilling on federal lands generated almost $6 billion last year. States are entitled to this revenue by law. As Judge Doughty noted in his decision, losing out on this revenue would cause “irreparable injury” if the suspension were to remain in place. 

“Millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake,” wrote Judge Doughty. “Local government funding, jobs for plaintiff State workers, and funds for the restoration of Louisiana’s Coastline are at stake.”

While Doughty’s ruling requires the Interior Department to restart its leasing program immediately, the agency will continue its review of the effects of drilling. 

“We are reviewing the judge’s opinion,” an Interior Department spokesperson said. The coming report “will include initial findings on the state of the federal conventional energy programs, as well as outline next steps and recommendations” to balance the interests of the environment, jobs, and energy development.

The Biden Administration’s moratorium on federal oil and gas leases was a mistake for U.S. energy independence and economic security. Thankfully, Judge Doughty followed the letter of the law by striking down the ban. His decision is at least a temporary win for states like New Mexico, Wyoming, and Louisiana, whose annual budgets depend so heavily on oil and gas revenues for schools and public safety.