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June 21, 2021

Federal Court Blocks White House Moratorium On Oil, Gas Leasing

On June 15, a federal judge issued an order temporarily blocking the Biden administration’s temporary moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on public land and waters.

As a reminder, a week after taking office in January 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that halted all new leases and that pledged to review all existing leases and existing permitting practices. Given the long lead time necessary to begin production on wells, the administration’s action potentially could have meant that all oil and natural gas production on public lands could be disrupted for years to come. With those concerns in mind, the attorneys general from 13 states immediately challenged the policy.

Last week, a federal judge agreed with the states’ challenge and halted implementation of the executive order.

As The Hill reported, U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty did not make a determination about the legality of the Biden administration’s actions, but blocked the president’s executive order from taking effect while court cases against it continue. In his decision, the judge did argue the Biden administration does not have the authority to stop the leases without congressional approval.

Judge Doughty also said that there is a “substantial” likelihood that state challenges to the moratorium will succeed on the merits if they able to demonstrate a “substantial” threat of irreparable harm. A Biden administration spokesperson said the president will abide by the decision while continuing to determine what to do next.

On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, The Associated Press reported that Republican and Democratic senators questioned U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland about how the Biden administration’s plans to respond to the ruling. While acknowledging the department still had not yet had time to review the “fresh decision,” like the administration spokesperson, Secretary Haaland said the administration would respect it.