Interior: Court order prohibits further delay in lease sales
Heather Richards, GREENWIRE, September 23, 2021
The Interior Department will not further delay the Biden administration’s first oil and gas lease sales, despite pleas from environmental groups requesting more time for reviews.
The administration froze new leasing shortly after President Biden took office, but a federal judge this summer ordered the White House to resume auctions while the legality of a moratorium moved through the courts.
In a letter to green groups yesterday, Laura Daniel-Davis, Interior’s principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, said that court order is why the department won’t extend a period of public input on the first onshore lease sales.
“We are subject to an injunction in Louisiana v. Biden case, and we are making every effort to comply with the court order,” she said in a letter to WildEarth Guardians yesterday, acknowledging “challenges” posed by the timeline.
Fifty-three green organizations had said the Oct. 1 deadline for initial public input should be moved into next year (Greenwire, Sept. 14).
The additional time, they said, was needed for groups to assess environmental impacts on the 750,000 acres proposed for auctions in Wyoming, New Mexico, and other states.
The onshore auctions are still in their preliminary planning, in which federal officials and the public review lands proposed by the oil and gas industry for lease.
Jeremy Nichols, climate, and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said Interior’s response was “extremely disappointing” and argued that officials are neglecting their authority to hold lease sales at their discretion.
“Nothing in the ruling says the Interior Department has to turn its back on meaningful public involvement in their environmental reviews,” he said.
Leasing has become a focal point for the Biden administration’s climate agenda on public lands.
The White House froze new sales shortly after taking office and ordered Interior to conduct a comprehensive review of the federal oil and gas program. That review is expected to result in reforms and a potential increase in royalty rates.
Meanwhile, the freeze was supposed to stay in place until that review was finished. It was a concession to environmental advocates, many of whom want oil and gas activity to be retired on public lands in line with Biden’s campaign promises, due to both local environmental impacts and larger climate concerns.
But the oil and gas industry and its political allies have mounted a public defense and pressed the administration to resume sales. That has resulted in several lawsuits, including the ongoing Louisiana case that temporarily blocked the moratorium.
The Department of Justice has appealed the temporary injunction blocking the moratorium.
Oil groups have also chided the administration for its much-delayed interim report on the oil review. It was originally promised for early summer.
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, said in a statement that the leasing ban has been “in vain.”
“Our president is lobbying Russia and OPEC to boost production while hindering American production,” she said, “He’d rather import energy from countries with weak environmental regulations than enable American companies to increase production and help bring down prices.”