Judge doubles down on blocking Biden oil, gas pause in 13 states

A horizontal drilling rig operates at sunrise in the Permian Basin near Midland, Texas U.S. August 24, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
  • Louisiana judge's order comes a day after 5th Circuit tossed earlier injunction
  • Affected offshore lease sales are already mandated by new Inflation Reduction Act

(Reuters) - A Louisiana federal judge has blocked the Biden administration’s ability to unilaterally "pause" oil and gas leasing in 13 states, after an appeals court lifted the judge's nationwide injunction just a day earlier.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty on Thursday said the Interior Department had violated federal law when it effectively canceled both onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands following a 2021 executive order signed by President Joe Biden that instructed the agency to pause those activities pending a comprehensive review of the federal leasing program itself.

The offshore lease sales affected by this ruling are already mandated, however, through the Inflation Reduction Act, which Biden signed Tuesday.

The government is required to hold lease sales by the Mineral Leasing Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and only Congress is capable of stopping oil and gas leasing, Doughty said in Thursday's memorandum order.

“Rather than doing a comprehensive review while the scheduled oil and gas lease sales took place, the secretary ‘put the cart before the horse,’” the judge wrote.

The plaintiffs in Thursday's decision are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. The ruling does not apply to other states.

Judge Doughty originally issued a preliminary injunction blocking the pause on leasing in June 2021, which spurred the administration to move forward with lease sales in the Gulf and in Alaska.

Bids from a Gulf auction in November 2021 were put on ice several months later when a D.C. federal judge said the government violated environmental review laws. Interior canceled the Alaska sale in late 2021 citing lack of industry interest.

The 5th Circuit on Wednesday tossed Doughty's preliminary injunction after finding the judge's original order lacked specificity and didn't adequately define the action being limited.

"President Biden's executive order to choke off energy development didn't just increase prices and hurt American families - it was flatly illegal," said Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen in a statement after the Thursday ruling.

Interior declined to comment Friday.

The case is State of Louisiana et al. v. Joseph R. Biden Jr. et al., Western District of Louisiana, No. 2:21-cv-00778.

For the states: Tyler Green and Daniel Shapiro of Consovoy McCarthy and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, Louisiana Solicitor General Elizabeth Murrill and Louisiana Deputy Solicitor General Joseph St. John of the Louisiana Department of Justice

For the U.S. government: Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim, Thomas Ports and Michael Sawyer of the U.S. Department of Justice

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