by Josh Siegel,
Posted for:Layla Godey
The Biden administration was hit with an immediate lawsuit Wednesday over its decision to halt oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters.
The Western Energy Alliance, a group representing fossil fuel producers active on federal lands, sued in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming, alleging President Biden exceeded presidential authority.
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Alliance, described Biden’s action as a “ban,” despite his administration describing the order as a temporary moratorium on leasing while the administration reviews how to better balance oil and gas with developing renewables on federal lands and waters.
The administration did not provide a timeline for when the pause would end.
“The law is clear. Presidents don’t have authority to ban leasing on public lands. All Americans own the oil and natural gas beneath public lands, and Congress has directed them to be responsibly developed on their behalf,” Sgamma said.
ClearView, an energy research group, reads the law differently.
In a note, the group said the secretary of the Interior Department has broad discretion in managing public land.
The Mineral Leasing Act, the group, says, requires the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management to sell fossil fuel leases on a quarterly basis, but another statute, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, allows for the withdrawal of public lands from energy leasing in emergency situations.
Biden could suspend leasing under the latter statute while the Interior Department rewrites Resource Management Plans to define the appropriate uses of federal land. For example, the department could emphasize conservation or renewable energy development instead of oil and gas leasing.
His order does not affect existing oil and gas leases, which can last for up to 10 years, meaning drilling can continue on federal land in the West as well as the Gulf of Mexico, which stand to be most affected.
Despite concerns the administration would also freeze permitting, the Interior Department says the pause “won’t impact existing operations or permits for valid, existing leases, which are continuing to be reviewed and approved.”