WASHINGTON, Aug 16 (Reuters) - The Biden administration on Monday challenged a federal judge's decision in June to block the Interior Department's pause on oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters - a critical piece of its climate change policy - but will proceed with leasing during the appeals process.
The Interior Department aims to overturn the decision of Judge Terry Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, who said Louisiana and a dozen states that sued President Joe Biden's administration established they would suffer injury from the pause on new oil and gas leases.
Those states last week sought a court order from the judge to force Interior to hold an offshore lease sale this year. And on Monday, the American Petroleum Institute and 11 other industry groups sued the administration to force them to reinstate lease sales, which had not resumed after the judge's June decision.
"The appeal of the preliminary injunction is important and necessary. Together, federal onshore and offshore oil and gas leasing programs are responsible for significant greenhouse gas emissions and growing climate and community impacts," the Interior Department said in a statement.
Biden had paused the government's new leases in January as part of a sweeping plan to rein in fossil-fuel extraction on federal land and combat the effects of climate change.
The Interior Department said on Monday it will proceed with new leases during the appeals process "consistent with the district court’s injunction during the appeal" and will use "discretion provided under the law to conduct leasing in a manner that takes into account the program’s many deficiencies."
The agency acknowledged that its current leasing program and royalty rates do not "adequately incorporate consideration of climate impacts" and the "breadth of the Interior Secretary’s stewardship responsibilities."
The agency said it will address the shortcomings through several steps, including completing a report outlining reform recommendations.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said earlier this year that the highly anticipated report would be released in the “early summer” but it has not yet been published.
The Department also will undertake a "programmatic analysis" to ensure that federal leasing meets Biden's targets of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and announced it will also release a "notice of intent" to review the federal coal leasing program later this week.
Environmental groups welcomed the appeal but expressed concern about a resumption of leasing in light of a dire report earlier this month by the UN climate science panel warning that global warming is dangerously close to spiralling out of control without drastic measures to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
“Appealing this decision shows that the Biden administration is committed to tackling the devastating impacts of the broken federal oil and gas program, but in the wake of the most recent IPCC report it is concerning that oil and gas leasing will resume and we hope DOI will introduce needed reforms to the oil and gas program ASAP,” said Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society.
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