EnergyFederalDistrict Judge Pauses President Biden’s Oil and Gas Drilling Halt on Federal Land, Citing Lack of Congressional Approval

Execution of the order is postponed until further decision on the case.
June 18, 2021
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A Louisiana district judge halted the White House’s executive order prohibiting new federal land leases for oil and gas companies. The dictate was one of President Joe Biden’s first upon taking office in January.

Citing the lack of congressional approval, Judge Terry Doughty ordered the prohibition to pause pending the case’s final decision.

“A president’s authority to act, as with the exercise of any governmental power, must stem either from an act of Congress, or from the Constitution itself, or a combination of the two,” Doughty wrote in the decision.

Doughty also pointed to federal laws such as the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act that explicitly tasks the Department of the Interior with making available federal land leases.

Plaintiffs allege the federal government did not conduct the proper notice and comment procedure required during the rulemaking process and that they’d suffer serious financial injury from the pause.

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Attorneys for the federal government countered in their brief that the plaintiffs’ lacked standing to challenge the law in that a favorable outcome, i.e. a permanent stall on the order, would not recuperate the losses they’ve suffered during the pause — like financial benefits and jobs that were not realized.

The injunction is only temporary to allow the court time to review the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ arguments. The plaintiffs, a group of 13 states including Texas, argue the federal government violated the Administrative Procedure Act — the body of work dictating how bureaucratic agencies issue regulations.

The Department of the Interior told the Wall Street Journal it would comply with the order but will continue evaluating current permits and leases per another provision of the executive order.

Part of Biden’s campaign energy plan, the prohibition is intended to discourage expansion of fossil fuel production as part of a broader effort to transition away from fossil fuel use. One stated goal of Biden’s is for the U.S. to reach “carbon neutral” status by 2050.

“We have no time to waste when it comes to tackling the threat of climate change. That’s why today, I’ll be taking action to address the climate crisis with the urgency science demands,” Biden said at the time.

Trying to walk a tightrope between environmental progressives and the blue-collar Democrats whose livelihoods depend on the fossil fuel industry, the measure was somewhat of a concession to both. While the move prohibits drilling expansion it is limited to only federal lands — something the federal government has more control over than it otherwise would.

Still, the order drew the ire of some moderate Democrats including Texas Reps. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX-07), Vicente González (D-TX-15), Henry Cuellar (R-TX-28), and Marc Veasey (D-TX-33).

“We urge you to rescind this order and to reject policies that would ban responsible oil and gas leasing on federal lands and federal waters. American families rely upon secure, safe and affordable energy supplies and constituents in our districts are depending on government working proactively to move forward together in 2021 as we build back better,” their joint letter stated.

Compared to some other states like Alaska or New Mexico, Texas will not be as affected by the order as under 2 percent of the state is federal land — much of which houses military bases. But one estimate by the American Petroleum Institute projected the order would cost Texas 120,000 jobs.

As of 2019, oil and gas companies held 582 drilling leases on a total of 350,000 acres of federal land in Texas.

Texas leads the nation in oil and gas production and would fall among the top five worldwide if it were its own country.

Federal land drilling leases tend to last 10 years and thus some might outlast the potential of a two-term Biden administration while others would not.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.