WASHINGTON — In a setback for President Joe Biden’s efforts on climate change, a federal judge in Louisiana on Tuesday blocked the administration’s temporary ban on new leases to drill for oil and gas on public lands and ordered that lease sales continue.
The Interior Department said it would “comply with the decision,” signaling that lease sales to drill in Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico will likely resume — at least for now.
During Biden’s first says in office, his Interior Department paused new leases while reviewing the program to decide whether extracting oil and gas from federal lands and waters should continue in the future, as the president seeks to wean the U.S. off fossil fuels. The Interior Department has held a public forum on the issue and said that an interim report on the future of the program would be coming over the summer.
But Louisiana state Attorney General Jeff Landry and 12 other GOP attorneys general sued in March to block the temporary ban, arguing the administration had circumvented legal requirements for carrying out such a move. On Tuesday, Judge Terry Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction blocking the administration from enforcing its moratorium.
Doughty said his order applies “nationwide.”
“Millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake,” Doughty wrote in a 44-page memorandum accompanying the injunction. “Local government funding, jobs for Plaintiff State workers, and funds for the restoration of Louisiana’s Coastline are at stake. Plaintiff States have a reliance interest in the proceeds derived from offshore and on land oil and gas lease sales.”
An Interior Department spokesperson responded to the injunction late Tuesday by saying the administration would keep working on the interim report and the recommendations on how to improve use of public lands and waters to create jobs and “build a just and equitable energy future.”
“We are reviewing the judge’s opinion and will comply with the decision,” the department said, without specifying any plans to appeal the injunction.
The setback comes as Biden is seeking to rapidly transition the U.S. away from oil, gas and coal, fossil fuels that emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming, including by ramping up production of renewable energy sources. A 2018 federal government report found that close to one quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from fuels extracted from federal lands.
Landry called the judge’s move a “victory” for the rule of law and for energy workers, applauding the court for having “recognized President Biden is completely outside his authority in his attempt to shut down oil and gas leases on federal lands.”
The American Petroleum Institute, which represents major oil and gas companies and has opposed Biden’s moratorium, said it was “pleased” by the junction and said halting leasing had harmed the nation’s “security, environmental progress and economic recovery.”
“We urge the administration to move expeditiously to follow the court’s order and lift the federal leasing pause,” API Vice President Kevin O’Scannlain said in a statement.
As a presidential candidate, Biden committed to “banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands,” a move sought by climate activists who say federal land shouldn’t be used to drill for planet-warming fossil fuels.
But despite Democrats’ broad support for his climate goals, Biden has come under intense pressure from some in his own party over the potential ban, especially in New Mexico, where roughly a third of the state is federal land and the public school system is highly dependent on revenues from that drilling.