Biden administration plans to resume plans for federal oil and gas development

A drilling rig operates in the Permian Basin oil and natural gas producing area in Lea County
A drilling rig operates in the Permian Basin oil and natural gas production area in Lea County, New Mexico, U.S., February 10, 2019. REUTERS/Nick Oxford//File Photo/File Photo

March 18 (Reuters) - The Biden administration on Friday said it would resume plans for oil and gas development on federal lands following a court ruling this week that temporarily restored a measure meant to factor the cost of global warming into federal decision-making.

The development is the latest in a string of stops and starts to the federal oil and gas leasing program since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021. Biden pledged during his presidential campaign to halt federal drilling auctions, but that effort has been stymied by a court challenge from Republican-led states.

Just a month ago, the Interior Department said it would delay upcoming federal oil and gas lease sales because a Louisiana federal judge blocked the administration from using its "social cost of carbon" value to factor the risks of climate change into decisions on permitting, investment and regulatory issues.

Then earlier this week, a federal appeals court allowed the government to continue, temporarily, using the value of around $50 per ton of greenhouse gases emitted. The White House had reverted back to an Obama-era value, which is far higher than the roughly $10 a ton imposed by the Trump administration, early last year.

"With this ruling, the department continues its planning for responsible oil and gas development on America’s public lands and waters," Interior spokesperson Melissa Schwartz said in an emailed statement.

She declined to say whether the administration would resume oil and gas leasing auctions in the near term.

Before the February ruling, Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had been preparing to hold lease sales in several Western states. The environmental analyses for those sales had relied on the social cost of carbon imposed by Biden.

An industry group, the Western Energy Alliance, said the sales should now proceed.

"We have heard directly from BLM that the district court ruling caused them to stop progress because they would have had to change the analysis, but now that’s not the case, they can move forward," Kathleen Sgamma, President of the Alliance, said in an email.

Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Jonathan Oatis

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